Table of Contents
Part One: MIND AND MATTER
1. The Real
2. The Situation of Embodiment
3. The Subjective Frame
4. Some Mind-Body Problems
5. The Ghost in the Machine
6. Skepticism, or the Problem of Knowledge
7. Other Minds, Other Bodies
8. The Reality Principle
9. Self-Reference and Subjectivity
10. Paradox and the Subjective Frame
11. The Ground of Experience
Part Two: INTENTION AND EXTENSION
14. The "Mathematical" Meaning of Meaning
15. What it is Like to Be an Intentional System
16. The Problem of Cognitive Domains
17. Coloring it Real
18. De-realizing the World
19. The Evolution of Consciousness
Part Three: CONTENT AND FOR
20. Analog and Digital
21. The Propositional Nature of Thought
22. Simulation and Replication
23. Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Life and Nanotechnology
24. Extraterrestrial Life
Part Four: SUBJECT AND OBJECT
25. A Conscious Relationship to Experience
26. The Subject is No Object
27. The Concept of Spiritual Freedom
31. Time and Space
32. Cycles and The Shadow of Thought
34. Identity and the Absolute
Epilogue (to be constructed)
Appendix to Section 17
The Mind-Body Problem
is a by-product of subjective consciousness, i.e. of the self-reference
of an awareness system. Given the possibility of a subjective frame placed
around the contents of consciousness, and given also the reifying tendency
of mind, the rift between subject and object is an inevitable artifact
of human consciousness. The closest we can come to a solution is an understanding
of the exact nature and situation of the embodied subject. Ontological
solutions, such as materialism and idealism, are excluded as part of the
Reification is examined as the fundamental movement of mind. Subjectified consciousness is a meta-system whose evolutionary role is to counterbalance the natural realism of mind. The Mind-Body Problem is the contradiction between these natural viewpoints.
The intentionality of mind is likened to that of an "interpreted" formal system. The nature of experienced qualia is the same as that of the intentionally (and gratuitously) created meanings of words or mathematical symbols. The concept of a self who speaks this inner language is examined and rejected. There is a rapprochement between spiritual idealism and scientific materialism in regard to the nature, not only of the object, but also of the subject or self and its potential freedom.
"The brain is not an organ of thinking but an organ of survival, like claws and fangs. It is made in such a way as to make us accept as truth that which is only; advantage"-- A. Szent-Gyorki
The two great mysteries-- why there is anything at all and why there is conscious experience of it-- are related in the fact that it is only in consciousness that we know anything of the existence of the world. The being of the world and the being of the conscious self have in common a certain insubstantiality. Of what, ultimately is the physical universe made? Physics and cosmology incline more and more to answer that the difference between something and nothing is ultimately very subtle. And of what are our perceptions, thoughts and dreams made? Any adequate answer will surely involve us in even greater subtleties.
The ancient sage wondered whether he had awakened from dreaming of himself as a butterfly, or whether he was indeed a butterfly dreaming himself to be a man. The metaphor of dreaming recognizes the subjective status of experience, a realm independent of the physical world as the object of scientific inquiry. There are tides in paradigms as in fashions; an ebb and flow of faith in realism, in science, and in rationality itself, as well as in specific theories. By placing such changes in the context of fashion, one is already attempting to establish a framework larger than competing camps-- a meta-rational perspective within which cycles of interest in one or another world view have their births and suffer their declines.
Whether we are free spirits dreaming this conditional existence, or material organisms dreaming of unconditional freedom, is fair enough to ask-- from a purely existential point of view. Are we to understand the experience and the journey of the individual (and also that of the collective) in the evolving terms of Western science or in terms of the world's timeless spiritual teachings? Which is fundamental, mind or matter, subject or object? Facing such questions intellectually, the ancient sage might have hedged his bets, dividing existence between butterfly and man, or merging the two in some monstrous hybrid. Usual strategies in philosophy have considered one or the other primary and real, its complement derivative or illusory. My approach will be to seek a higher ground on which a grasp of the true nature and difficulty of the problem itself constitutes a solution of sorts-- as close, perhaps, as the self-conscious intellect can come to understanding the dilemma of its own existence.
If we are spiritual beings whose essential stuff is idea, the great mystery is our relationship to bodily life in this physical world. And if we are material beings, the mystery is the inner theater of our conscious experience and our capacity for self-transcendence.
The storyline of spiritual idealism holds that mind consciously chooses (or chose) its identification with matter-- or even creates matter! The storyline of scientific materialism holds that the system of mind arises (or arose) from matter through complexification driven by the competition to survive. The concept of intentionality, however, is capable of linking these outlooks. The principle of intentionality is that something within the system is chosen to represent something else (whether outside it or within it). The choice is free insofar as the system is considered formally, as an abstraction. It is bound in that it is driven concretely by reality. In the spiritual story, we voluntarily (and perhaps mistakenly) made a choice to identify with matter, to be bound by survival, and we struggle to regain a free state. In the materialist version, we began in bondage to matter and the game of survival, have conceived the possibility of freedom, and strive to make it actual. These parallel explanations point in the same direction, and promise to meet on a not-too-distant horizon.
The search in both worlds is for underlying unity and first principles. Science inquires about the physical world, the object of experience. Spirituality inquires about the subject and its relationship to experience at large. Both science and spiritual practice seek to purify experience of subjective values; both aim at objectivity. Science seeks the underlying unity of objects, while religion seeks the underlying oneness of subjects. Science inquires into the ultimate truth of the object, spirituality into that of the subject.
These dualities-- of subject and object, inner and outer, mental and physical, "mere experience" versus "reality"-- are known collectively in philosophy as the Mind-Body Problem. At root the "problem" is the awareness that the contents of consciousness may refer either to something material in the world or to some artifact of the mind. Because this awareness presupposes consciousness of self, the mind-matter split is intimately involved with subjectivity and selfhood.
Self-consciousness may be defined as the ability to place a frame around some portion of experience, so as to consider its contents as the property of a self rather than of the world. Subjective consciousness implies the existence of a self separate from the phenomenal contents of its experience. Standing back to appreciate experience as such, rather than as an attribute of reality, defines the observer as a presence distinct from the scene observed. Without the category of experience, as opposed to the world, the mind could not be aware of itself.
Traditionally, the Realist (or Materialist) believes in the physical world, or some other order external to the mind, as fundamental. The Realist points to the scene itself, thereby treating the frame as a transparent window on an objective world beyond. The Idealist believes in experience, or some transcendent realm underlying it, as primary, and points rather to the frame and the creative self. One focusses on the role of the world in determining experience of it, the other on the role of the self. My contention will be that there is a deeper level in which these viewpoints can be reconciled, as shifting forces in a dialectic.
By temperament one finds oneself in natural sympathy with either Realism or Idealism. The split between mind and matter thus divides thought about itself as well. For the Idealist, only the map exists or has importance in shaping experience. But, of course, if the map is not a map of a real territory, in what sense is it a map at all? For the Realist, all that exists or merits attention is the territory, inhabited and studied directly without the aid of maps. But how then to account for the actuality of map-making and the existence of the map as something non-material, as idea? Either premise leads to its own demise. In this regard the Mind-Body Problem resembles the classic paradoxes of logic. As with such paradoxes, self-reference is at the heart of the Mind-Body Problem. What makes paradox is the inability to get above its logical level-- to transcend its contradictory premises. This is the situation confronting the mind conscious of its own subjectivity.
In either an Idealist world or a Realist world there would be no Mind-Body Problem. But subjective consciousness has cast us irreversibly into mixed terrain. There is no way to decide whether experience (or its extension, thought) is an accurate representation of the world-in-itself, unsullied, so to speak, by mind. Experience and the world cannot be hung up side by side for comparison. For, everything we know of the world comes to us in experience, while every content of experience is in some way an image or reflection of the world. Dwelling in the map, nothing is known of the world-in-itself except that it exists. And dwelling in the territory, no amount of climbing about in the machinery of the brain (to paraphrase Leibniz) gives any hint of what the color blue should be like as an experience, or why there should be any such thing as experience or consciousness at all.
The subject cannot know itself as object, because-- we shall see-- it is transcendent by definition. The Mind-Body Problem is the utter disjunction between subject and object. This points to logical inconsistency as the culprit rather than some empirical fact. If so, conscious experience cannot be explained in terms of some causal power of the brain (nor as an effect of quantum dynamics, etc.), anymore than in terms of a non-physical vital force. It is doubtful that the M.B.P. can be resolved through theories of physical emergence, because these presuppose the objective point of view. How the behavioral complexity of the brain emerges from the activities of many nerve cells is a problem well within the purview of science. What remains elusive is how the complex behavior of neurons gives rise to the experience of color, for example, or to the sense of selfhood and consciousness. The subjective self and its experience are unquestionably correlates of physical brain-body states, but above all they are not objects in the world to be described from an observer's point of view.
Subjective experience cannot be explained scientifically because science deals only with objective description. The existence of the conscious self, the perspective from which "looking" takes place, must remain a mystery to an outlook which only looks outward toward objects. The places in science where this outlook is inevitably confronted by the role of the observer are notoriously problematic: relativity, quantum physics and cosmology. How, then, could there ever be a scientific explanation of consciousness, which is totally bound up with notions of personhood, selfhood, mind, spirit-- the ineffable ethos of the subject?
Experience was at one time explained as a spectacle appearing to an inward soul. But to treat it as a kind of inner cinematic duplicate of the external world implies an audience for this show. Then that observer's experience must in turn be explained, in an infinite regression of the metaphor. The mystery of experience cannot be explained by multiplying the subject. A subject cannot-- any more than a perceiving soul-- explain perception, for the subject or soul merely stands in for the very process to be explained. Does "I" have its own eyes to see or its own brain? The subject, like the object, proves to be a convenient and misleading fiction.
Is it possible to transcend the Mind-Body Problem, to find a common ground between mind and matter, between Idealism and Realism, between metaphysics and physics? "Neutral" concepts of information processing and complex adaptive systems seem promising within the scientific framework, wherein mind is studied as a self-regulating representational system. But there is still something missing in this picture. Following such extrinsic metaphors, one never quite closes the gap with subjective experience-- the intrinsic blueness of the color blue. This book will argue that what is needed for this closure is a grasp of the gratuitous nature of intentionality, and of specific conditions to be met in the context of embodied participation in the business of survival. In other words, a cognitive system is like an interpreted formal system, a real language which refers to the world. From such a perspective, pain can be understood to have its specific quality as an experience because of its meaning to the organism as information about the state of its tissues. Ultimately, we should like to understand why the sky looks blue to us-- that is, why we have the subjective experience we do in response to light of wavelength approximately 4800 angstroms. This sort of explanation goes beyond the functioning of causal systems, to embrace the evolutionary advantages of particular intentional connections within systems of meaning. The very nature of intentionality takes us beyond the science of matter, though not beyond logic.
Whatever the case, such explanation can only be based on the reasonable assumption that cognition is neither entirely determined by a world of external causes, nor entirely by the organism's convention, but as a specifiable interaction in which both organism and environment contribute to the creation of experience and meaning. Cognition is rooted in the particular programs of the organism, as well as in the environment, and is always a biased and incomplete account of the world, whose "true" face cannot be known or even assigned meaning. One cannot strictly speak of the accuracy of the map, but only of its adequacy as a tool of survival, since map and territory cannot be compared in the way common sense would like. We are hopelessly immersed in the map, and only able to perceive the territory at all through its mediation. Raw territory means the unseeable face of the world-in-itself, while experience is always a formal configuration on the map-- which, like all maps, is a symbolic abstraction. Our very concept of territory is therefore but a feature of the map! Undaunted, the mind creates an experience of a real external world from the formalism of its inner map.
Now, a formalism need not be interpreted in any particular way, nor even at all. Like a game, it is also gratuitous, a self-enclosed universe in its own right. In that light, its premises, like the rules of a game, are beyond reason, arbitrary. Existence is profoundly irrational in just this way. On the positive side, our little life is whimsical and undetermined, the exuberant play of free beings. On the darker side, it can seem a tale of sorrowful entrapments in arbitrary circumstances or values, inertial ruts and insidious logics that dominate all scales of human experience. The face of the arbitrary has its comic and tragic masks.
The Real sets a compass of apparent order, meaning, direction and certainty on the face of the arbitrary, the waters of the Unknown. The sense of reality is used (and abused) to endorse unconscious choice, to lend validity to thought. The Real has, like a good parent, given us structure and stable bearings in the time of our formation. But as we come of age, individually and collectively, it is up to us to define ourselves and the world we inhabit. For the real reality is a sea of vibrant possibilities, where nothing is fixed as it is in thought. Moment to moment we choose, consciously or not, what will be, and to which inner voice we shall hearken. Every impulse, feeling or thought is an incipient reality tuned into, to be followed or not where it may lead. Each beckoning possibility is a tunnel to pursue as far as one dares into its branching labyrinth. One's experience there depends on who one thinks one is and what one holds to be real.
Concepts of self and world are mutually bound.
If there is a true reality, and a true self, they must converge as one
and the same in that truth. For the self, as both adventurer and calm observer,
on the turbulent journey of paths taken and not taken, all roads lead home.
Part One: MIND AND MATTER
1. The Real
Throughout the history of western philosophy, the "Mind-Body Problem" has been defined in many ways. Perhaps this is because the only tool that philosophy really has is the ability to re-organise thought. One definition could be: the divergence between a materialist and an idealist view of experience. We could talk immediately of "objective" and "subjective"--and later we will-- but the problem with these terms is their bias. In our materialist culture, we tend to identify objective with real. We also have a genetic investment in the real as representing survival (Freud's Reality Principle). The subjective, on the other hand, tends to be pejoratively identified with the imaginary and the merely personal, private, or interior.
The Mind-Body Problem is the confusion that arises from thinking of the subject (mind) as a subtle object (body). For instance, a memory is an "object" of consciousness, enticing us to wonder what sort of object it is, compared to the event it is a memory of. How does a mental image of a chair compare to the chair itself, and how do they interact?
Realism holds that the physical world presented to us in experience as out there, solid, and real, is what truly exists. The body, as a component of that physical reality, is the part of us that is "objectively" real. Through interactions with the nervous system, the world outside the body impinges upon it, initiating complex material reactions within the body's brain, leading to objectively observable behaviour but also to subjective experience. In the materialist view it seems that events in the world, the body and the brain must cause our "interior" experience, which is non-material while somehow a byproduct of material events. It is this sense of an interior, non-physical realm we call subjective that gives rise to the M.B.P. For, how can the physical and the non-physical interact causally? In a materialist perspective, what place is there for a non-physical realm at all? We are tempted to imagine the subjective as occupying a pseudo-material existence along side the physical, and try to ponder the interactions between them. (Isn't this how we conceive the "soul", or the "subtle bodies" of metaphysics-- as quasi-physical entities subtler than physical matter?)
In contrast, idealist world-views hold that the material world is not real, but a creation of the mind. Causality is reversed-- and with it responsibility. For it is not physical reality which causes experience "in the mind", but the mind which causes the appearance of a physical reality "out there". Mind becomes primary and causative, matter becomes secondary and illusory.
Both the materialism of science and the idealism of spiritual traditions have sought the eternal and changeless beyond the realm of experience, but have pursued diverging strategies. Science looks for unifying principles behind the diversity of sensory experience by eliminating the subject of that experience as irrelevant. Spiritual idealism holds that the one underlying principle is the subject-- consciousness, the "I", the Self. From such a perspective, the M.B.P is no longer a philosophical problem (a "category mistake"), but a rather a spiritual one-- a question of mistaken identity. We erroneously think we are the body, identifying with its perspectives and priorities. And from the body's point of view, there is an external reality which holds sovereignty over its priorities, since the body's very existence is part of that reality and contingent upon processes within it. Hence the widespread belief in our culture that mind is at the mercy of the brain, an organ of the body, which is a function of the world. Idealism reverses this sequence: mind invents the world, including the body and its brain. Perhaps philosophical maturity is simply learning to live with the incompatibility of these perspectives, passing to a subtler stance which is not committed dogmatically to either one, but which can use both as appropriate footholds.
With this preamble, consider that the realness we associate with physical objects might be a category of the mind, such as Kant held space and time to be. Consider it a quality with which mind imbues sensory experience, because mind is programmed to serve the body's need to survive and maintain itself in a zone of well-being.
The organism is in constant exchange with the rest of the physical world. Each creature receives impressions from the world which it is the job of its brain to interpret in such a fashion as to allow the creature's success in a "game" of survival. Natural selection has guaranteed that by definition only those organisms exist which play this game successfully.
Now, a game is a structured activity within a playing space or field, with playing pieces and rules. Chess and Monopoly are examples. So are algebra and geometry, business and economics, computer software and hardware, human relationships, and just about anything you can think of that involves ordered, structured, describable activity. In the game of survival (or natural selection), the playing piece is the organism and the field is the environment. The rules are numerous (perhaps infinite), including the laws of physics, chemistry, and genetics. And there are many levels of rules, including what might be called the logic of the organism. To use a computer metaphor, how is it programmed? The algorithms by which it operates are the rules governing its behaviour, which are its strategies in the game of survival. In a computer game, some software is embodied in the circuitry of the hardware. So with the brain/body, its "logic" is partially hard wired in the neurology and chemistry of the organism. Whereas a human programmer created the design of the machine, eons of cumulative genetic experience (trial and error) created the capacity of the organism to play the game of life.
The brain is an organ of survival, and some creatures rely more heavily on it than others. The big-brained creatures tend to be visually and acoustically well-developed. What these two senses have in common is space. They are about spatial orientation and therefore movement-- the movement of pursuit and evasion, the hunter and the hunted. The concept of space also implies the independent existence of distinct objects-- and therefore ideas of objectivity and the material reality of the world.
Of course, we take for granted that the world simply is as our big brains depict. We believe that the space we perceive is real, that the objects in it are real, and so forth, without questioning what "real" means-- or what "meaning" means, for that matter. But perhaps the automatic 3-D realness of perception is itself a survival strategy, like physical pain. Have you ever wondered why pain "hurts"? The hurting is the way we experience the mind's judgment (and alarm!) that the body's tissues are sustaining damage. When you think about it, our physical existence cannot be free from pain, because it is the alert of pain that has allowed us to survive. And the realness with which the mind imbues physical reality is the way we subjectively experience the mind's judgment that the playing field of the world is a very serious place for the body. It is an expression of our belief that the world holds over us the power of life and death, pleasure and pain. It expresses our earnest engagement in the game of survival. Like pain, the sense of reality is functional. We are here to think casually about all this only because we take the Reality Principle (as Freud called it) seriously enough to have survived.
2. The Situation.
Our brains are big enough that we can theorize about how brains work and what kind of epistemic situation we are in as perceiving organisms. We can paint a picture about how minds paint pictures, and grasp that a picture a mind paints is indeed a creative invention with survival value, rather than a transparent window on the world. The Situation is that even the picture about picture painting is an artifact hanging on the wall of the mind, and not (as we naturally think) an opening in that wall revealing a "real" world that is the proper subject of painting!
All this tail-chasing makes the head spin, of course. The Situation is the very problem that our brains are big enough to think in circles. We are conscious of our consciousness, as opposed to simply being aware of the world. In this irrevocable self-awareness, we back paddle through metaphor to try to comprehend The Situation. Aware of awareness, we cannot think of experience simply in terms of the world. Now that we know about painting, so to speak, all scenes are suspect. The beautiful vista, examined closely, might turn out to be a clever backdrop, a trompe l'oeil. Plato described The Situation as like that of prisoners in a cave from birth, who know nothing of the outside world, but only experience shadows cast upon the cave walls by various objects from outside that are never themselves seen. Descartes described it in terms of a demon who could somehow falsify all the information coming into a brain through the nerves, creating the complete illusion of a body and a material world.
Of course, this is all against common sense, which insists we can certainly tell the difference between a thing and a painting of it! The problem is that our metaphors (and our common sense) may already have deception built into them. The difference between the original and a copy, between fact and illusion is something we think we already know about. It is a distinction within our experience of the world already presumed to be real.
Perhaps The Situation is like this. Imagine yourself inside a vast theatre set. As long as you aren't too careful, the illusion of a scene from the real world can be maintained. But eventually you may encounter some detail that is inconsistent-- the back side of a brick wall that is only boards leads you to look closely and see that the bricks are just paint on canvas. This is because only so much care has been invested in creating the illusion, and also because you know the difference between real bricks and fake bricks. But now imagine a Star Trek Holodeck illusion-- a complete world down to the last detail. Imagine further that you have never been outside the Holodeck, and have never been given any clue that there even is an outside. All your life you have grown up with and interacted with fictional parents and friends, teachers, associates and a cast of millions who have gone about their business and aged as you have in an environment that is totally consistent within, yet fake from an outside perspective. It is the only reality you know. But is it real?
Even in this metaphor, of course, we are actually biased by our knowledge that Star Trek is a fictional story, and that even within the story the Holodeck is a fictional reality. So we are assuming a primary reality which is true (we go and turn on the TV, have dinner in front of it while watching the show, etc.) But suppose the true primary reality is that we really did grow up on a Holodeck, and the program running there (even at this moment) is your current experience. This experience includes the memory of making dinner in your holographic home, turning on your illusory TV to Star Trek, and all the ideas you have about Holodecks and primary and illusory realities. Now what? Pinch yourself? Perhaps your body too is a Holodeck illusion, and in the primary reality there is no such thing as bodies. Welcome to The Situation!
Of course, there is so much to do and experience within the Hologram that we can spend a lifetime there without ever being concerned that it all might be a highly consistent illusion. Such is life! Even if the dream is a nightmare, it is fascinating! Without knowledge of anything else, with little or no memory of whatever "wakefulness" is, the illusion is near seamless and perfect.
The Situation for the human brain/body is that it is a separate unit, a distinct playing piece in a playing space that seems to be a physical world of discrete objects, in a game that seems to be about survival. Survival means the genetic success of the species, echoed in the well-being of the individual and its extensions, as defined in the context of the game. That is, if the purposes of the individual (which may be merely the purposes of the species) are accomplished or furthered, it experiences this as pleasure. And if they are hindered, its experience is pain.
Thus, to identify with the organism is by and large to be what is called in Game Theory a "rational player": one who takes the game seriously and plays in earnest to win. Another way to put this is that the player identifies with the playing piece, adopts the goal of winning, and accepts the rules and conditions of the game, as well as the principles of play that could lead to a win. In an ordinary game, say of Chess or Monopoly, the players may become quite involved in the game, but they never lose sight of the fact that it is just a game, and when the game is over they resume their real life. A person who thought he actually was a Chess knight, that could only move about in L-shaped jumps of three squares and was permanently obsessed by the moves and logic of Chess, would be crazy. Nevertheless, in life we do take the game so seriously that we think we are our body; we do identify with its purposes and limitations, and we are obsessed with the events and doings of the world defined by the game. We are only fitfully aware of a larger reality.
Suppose we are not our bodies, but of a different nature than what is suggested by ordinary experience. Suppose we are more like actors who assume their characters while on stage, deliberately indulging and cultivating the illusion that they are those characters-- but never totally forgetting their true identities. And suppose that ordinary experience is actually a kind of hallucination which we have voluntarily cultivated by embracing the premises-- the script-- of the play so thoroughly that we have imaginatively entered into the drama and become, for all intents, characters within it. Suppose further that we are so wrapped up in this drama that we have even forgotten our off-stage identity as actors with another sort of life somewhere else. Then that is The Situation.
And if so, how did this all come about? Well, to begin with the obvious, this is the ground state for a player in the drama of life. It is not a game to dabble at: life requires our full attention. As in any competitive sport, only those players who play in earnest are going to stay in the game. So, if you find yourself here, it's because you're a successful player. And basically that means you've agreed to momentarily forget about any other existence and get thoroughly caught up in this one. Astronomers reason that the universe has to be a certain way in order for us even to be here inquiring about how things are. The fact that we are here bears witness to the fact that the universe is indeed that particular way.
The game-- the drama-- is only possible, meaningful, and interesting because we adopt the rules and agree to start somewhere, accepting the fantasy "world" generated by its premises. Logic has power only because we believe in the laws of deduction that enable us to leapfrog from one idea to another. What can be proven is only as reasonable as the initial assumptions. Similarly, in geometry one begins with certain axioms that cannot themselves be proven, but must simply be taken for granted in order to construct more elaborate theorems. We embrace the game, or the system, in other words, through an entirely voluntary gesture. All we need do is click our heels and say "yes, indeed, I do accept these rules and starting points", and before we know it we are swept into the world of that system. And this, I believe, is what we do here in the game of life. We are in The Situation because we have agreed to it. We have signed a contract of loyalty to the Corporation of Physical Existence, and now we are company men and women. We are the body living in the world because we have accepted the purposes and point of view of the body as a playing piece in the game of life on the playing field of the material and social world.
It seems that once in Oz, however, it is not so easy to get back home. Once we enter a system, an entrapment occurs because a system or game is by nature closed upon itself and complete within itself. It's a kind of logical black hole. So, things got to be the way they are because at some point we voluntarily jumped (or perhaps slid) into a seemingly irreversible Situation.
Imagine a life-sized Monopoly world where you go around buying and selling commodities and competing to build an empire. (Any resemblance to the so-called real world is not my fault!) The only permissible activities in this world, and the only things that exist in it, are those defined for the game of Monopoly. You cannot pick your nose because that is not defined in the rules of Monopoly. You also cannot rest, make love, go out to dinner or raise children, because these things have no place in the game. They simply do not exist in that world. Nor does there exist any larger world beyond the borders of the game, because that is not defined either. In truth, of course, you live in a larger world from which you momentarily enter or exit the world of Monopoly at will. But suppose you got stuck there and couldn't remember even that you had a real life. There is nothing in the game to remind you of it, no hints suggesting a world beyond. Every action in the game simply recycles you back into the game, like a dream from which you cannot awaken. It would be like becoming a part in a giant machine that just whirs on and on, following its inexorable rules.
Monopoly is a crude example. Just as with the metaphor of growing up on a Holodeck, we can easily imagine more sophisticated "game worlds". The point is that every game defines a world, and every world is a product of some game. The limit of the game we are playing is the limit of the world we can perceive.
Now, if the game or system is complex enough, there is a way out. The more complex the game or system, the more perfect and seamless the illusion of the game world. At the same time, the more complex the game or system, the more powerful it is in its own right. A system can ultimately be powerful enough to find the zipper and break out of itself. And the degree of power that is required seems to be the capacity to self-refer.
Back to Monopoly. Ordinarily, you might draw a Community Chest card, for instance, that reads: "Pass Go and collect $200". It is an instruction about what lawful move to make next. It's by following one instruction after another that we remain in the game, because each instruction only points to the next, and never to anything outside of the game. But if Monopoly could self-refer, you might draw a strange Community Chest card that reads: "This Community Chest card says: `This Community chest card says: This...etc." You have suddenly entered an infinite hall of mirrors. Whatever the card finally says, it says it recursively an infinite number of times, one nested within the next in a way that cannot be written down let alone be carried out. Moreover, each reiteration proclaims that "This is a Community Chest card in the game of Monopoly!", not just an instruction about what to do next. There is information about the fact that the card is an element of a game, and so our attention is drawn to the fact that we are "trapped" in a game or system. Once we realise this, effectively we have already escaped from the system, because that awareness itself implies the existence of some world (or at least a bigger system) outside the one we are in. To be truly trapped is to be ignorant of imprisonment. Once we have found the zipper, we are out.
So, the third answer to the question of how The Situation arose, is that while we consent to enter and identify with a game world-- namely, the physical cosmos in which we are playing out the game of survival-- this cosmos proves to be an evolving system. As part of it, biological organisms eventually reach a complexity permitting them to disengage from the identification. As organisms, we are able to wake up from the dream of organic existence at least enough to ask these questions about its nature.
What the mind considers real and meaningful derives naturally and historically from values related to the body's well-being. This presents the apparent tradeoff that, either we are imprisoned within bodily experience with its ready-made world of meaning, or else we have the freedom of disengagement but are lost in the void of the meaninglessly arbitrary. Game suggests a different relationship, of voluntary play within apparently serious reality. The player consciously agrees to play in earnest, adopting the premises of the game, not in order to win but for sheer delight. This is the concept of lila-- divine play-- the creativity manifest in the burgeoning cosmos. Game is in essence a mathematical concept, and such play is the very nature of mathematics. It lends itself to serious application with powerful results; through mathematics we have gone to the moon. But it forever transcends any particular application, formulation, system, or concept. It remains inherently gratuitous, playful, and flexible, while full of the meaning we lend it. It shows us how to reconcile the desire to live in zestful freedom with the desire for truth.
3. The Subjective Frame
The concept of the Real is the notion of a self-conscious mind. The category of the object arises in subjective consciousness together with its polarity, the subject. The story of the Real, therefore, is bound up with that of the self, and begins with the fact that you and I are conscious beings aware of our own consciousness.
Cognition is an instrument for monitoring the world and shaping appropriate action upon it. The world must therefore figure prominently in experience. Yet we all know that much experience consists of sensations, thoughts and feelings that cannot be identified as elements of the external world. These incongruous elements appear to constitute a realm that is parallel to the objective one, if not quite on an equal footing. The outward orientation of mind tempts one to objectify this realm as a kind of rarefied mental substance awkwardly sharing the cosmos with its material counterpart. But subjective awareness is a mode, and not a content, of experience. Even when the content of awareness is the physical world, we may still have the sense of this awareness as experience happening in the mind, in much the way that news footage happens here and now, on the flat screen of your TV, even though it depicts three-dimensional events somewhere else.
Self-consciousness is the awareness of experience as subjective. It is precipitated by the presence of the subjective frame that bounds primary objective reality. This frame is some cue in the experiential field, an element of experience that does not appear to be part of the objective world. You are not normally aware of the outline of your visual field, for instance--the easiest part of which to see is your nose. But sometimes this jumps into awareness, reminding you that your own existence is as plain as the nose on your face! You may then have the self-conscious experience of looking out of your eye sockets at the panorama of the visible world-- which includes parts of your own body such as your hands. Alternately, you might become aware of some bodily sensation as a subjective artifact.
Irregularities or breakdowns in normal perception are cues that place a frame around experience in such a way as to identify it as subjective. Thus an inner realm of experience is implied by optical and other illusions, hallucinations with psychotropic drugs, various conditions of neurologically injured patients, normal imagination and memory, dreams, somatic sensations, after-images, etc. These diverse experiences all appear to be not perceptions of anything physical, even if caused by physical stimuli or referring indirectly to physical events. Perceptual anomalies betray the mediating presence of mind, just as the waviness of old glass in a window betrays the existence of the intervening pane.
Self-consciousness is a special instance of self-reference, the paradoxes of which are essentially boundary skirmishes between categories or logical levels. Just as death frames life, the subjective frame is the boundary of the primary objective world. Everything within this boundary is received as real, logically prior to the subjective frame, and no doubt historically prior to subjective consciousness. A border to the Real implies that the Real is not all that exists, that something else must lie beyond this frontier. Before the appearance of this boundary, there can be no subjectivity-- indeed, no self. But once a cognitive system can self-refer, it is bound to find an element within itself that is incongruous with the objective world. A limit to the objective world implies the subjective one that contains it, and the self that framed and found that border. One's consciousness itself becomes an element of an expanded domain of self-conscious experience. This development may be likened to the discovery of irrational numbers, which did not fit into the domain of rational numbers. In order to accept and use them as legitimate numbers, mathematicians were forced to expand the domain to include them in a broader definition of number. (The expanded continuum then included the rational numbers among all possible decimals). Similarly, the recognition of elements of experience, that cannot be considered part of the objective external world, led to an expansion of the human cognitive domain. The domain of the world was forced to include such elements in an expanded domain of experience. And the category of experience implies a subject, an experiencer conscious of its role in relationship to objects of experience, both physical and mental. This is the split of subject and object.
In the beginning was the world. Just as our eyes cannot see themselves without the aid of a mirror, the pre-subjective mind could not have figured within its own experience, or known its role in producing and regulating that experience, without the reflection of self-consciousness. All that we moderns call subjective would have appeared to it unquestionably real. The development of human consciousness, as inferred from ancient myths, seems to have passed through stages similar to those through which the consciousness of an individual develops. The earliest human psyche, like that of a newborn child merged in an undifferentiated unity with the world, would have distinguished poorly between inside and outside. From our current subjectified perspective, we call this projection. But from the perspective of the pre-subjective mind, everything we would presently describe as taking place within the self must be experienced as external objective events. Without a self, only the world exists.
Just as the maturing child is ambivalent about its dependency, the rise of subjective consciousness must also involve a conflicted struggle to break away from the garden of unreflective being. The child begins to assert its will beyond the sphere of voluntary bodily movement, through experimenting with objects and testing itself against other wills. The young ego begins to disengage its own identity and exercise itself through interaction with the world, rebelling against its helpless dependency. And like this budding identity and competence of the child, the subjective consciousness of mankind has learned through its interaction with the physical world-- an interaction including rebellion against mother Nature, against the instinctual body-mind, against controlling father and mother gods, and even against the concept of reality.
The development of subjective consciousness depends on the ability to observe and manipulate internal mental objects as well as objects in the environment. Conscious control of the mind means wresting oneself from possession by its contents. To this end the relation to instinct is loosened, distance is acquired, and something purely cognitive is distilled from compelling emotional contents. In our present subjective and over-mental society, it is difficult to appreciate what must have been the very different situation at the dawn of humanity. While we long to recapture some instinctual vitality, in pre-subjective times the great task must have been to tame the mind's terrors, to gain freedom from overwhelming perceptions and feelings experienced as apparent reality.
Subjective consciousness achieves a more flexible mental instrument-- yet always in the service of the body. Possession by a mental content means seeing the world through it, so that it is experienced as a feature of objective reality, absolute and imbued with self-evident meaning. Subjective consciousness is the capacity to take such contents back into the psyche where they can be directed by a conscious will, appropriated as palpable tools of the self. Through the awareness of awareness, the organism is able to change its internal structure, to voluntarily retool itself.
By experiencing its own experiencing, mind can transcend its rigidity, stepping beyond its habitual categories, perspectives and assumptions to see them as such. It is then in a position to modify them from a new foothold of relative detachment. Such a foothold is only relative-- a movement from lesser to greater objectivity, not a static quality or thing. The paradox of objectivity is that it is only attainable through subjective consciousness. As new truths are conjured from this vantage point, they in turn must be relativized.
4. Some Mind-Body Problems
The subjective frame cleaves the experiential field into two distinct regions: the world and the self. Some aspects of experience belong to one, some to the other. Object and subject are disjunct categories: not apples and oranges but apples and ideas about apples. It also gives rise to two perspectives. One looks upon the object-- implicitly from all possible points of view, both physical and cognitive (while actually from one point of view at a time). The other looks from the subject, which is literally a dimensionless point of view (while potentially it is all such viewpoints). The object-- even the object of thought-- has extension in space and time and various sensory qualities. The subject has no qualities and no extension. What it does have, we shall see, is intention.
The subject-object dichotomy itself can be examined from either perspective. We can look at the organism as physical and note that its responses are a product both of an objective environment, of which it is a part, and of its own internal programs. We can infer an experience which is an inner representation of the environment and try to grasp the process whereby it is constructed. Or we can examine our own field of experience for its internal logic and structure, in order to comprehend the "deduction", from sensory input, through which the external reality has been unconsciously constructed. In the first case, we begin with the world as primary and given (with our physical bodies and brains as part of it), and try to understand the arising and place of consciousness in that scheme of things. In the second, we begin with consciousness as primary and given, and try to understand the system of cognitive beliefs which in their sum give us the experience of a real world.
This bilateral creation of experience is something like an algebraic product of two factors-- world and mind-- an "equation in two variables":
where o is the object and s is the subject. Of course, this equation can never be "solved" except by arbitrarily holding one variable constant while observing how experience depends on the other. And this is an operation performed intentionally from outside the system. In the wild, the two factors always function together. Physics attempts to simplify the epistemic situation by eliminating the subject, making experience a straightforward function of causes in the physical world. Psychology, on the other hand (to the degree that it is not merely an extension of physics), might seek to control the input of the environment in order to observe the dependency of experience on the subject's mind.
This "equation" can implicitly express either a realist (as above) or an idealist bias. The world (and the body as part of the world) may be taken to be primary and objective, while experience is a subjective function of it. Or the relation can be turned inside out, with experience as given, and with the world and the body as constructs:
The Mind-Body Problem is the fact that neither expresses the situation adequately, so that it is impossible to decide between them.
The epistemic situation of embodied minds (the M.B.P.) entrains three limitative consequences. These are that the world cannot be known: (1) as it is "in itself", independent of knowing minds; (2) in its absolute entirety; (3) impartially, apart from biases and interests originating in embodiment and cultivated through learning. These consequences can be restated as follows:
1) the set (o,s) cannot be known except as elements of E;
2) the set (o,s) is necessarily larger than the set E;
3) generally, f'(o,s) and f(o,s) are not identical.
These perspectives are also facts of everyday life. As a consequence of living in bodies, we are one-sidedly bound up with our own existence, and literally with our point of view in space, separate and distinct from others-- unable to experience other minds from within, nor our own from without. As social beings, we have developed empathy to compensate for the one condition, detachment for the other.
The concept of mental illness is but an exaggeration of the gulf between these perspectives. When viewed externally, mental illness is a departure from normal behavior, a nervous or chemical disorder. Viewed from within, it may be a novel way of organizing experience, following its own reasons, and perhaps a glimpse of truths for which normal consciousness is not prepared.
These perspectives also divide knowledge or intellectual inquiry into two broad categories: ontology, which asks what is, and epistemology, which asks how the mind gets and justifies its knowledge of what is. These have been retained as branches of philosophy, but the distinction between world and self has also given rise to specialized sciences such as physics and psychology.
The Mind-Body Problem is elusive and confusing because we are at the core of it. A function of our way of looking, it is wherever we turn our gaze. Subjective consciousness has opened a second perspective to us. When the subjective viewpoint is regarded implicitly through objectifying eyes, mind appears as a subtle kind of matter. Mind and matter are then seen as two complementary, but incompatible, kinds of "stuff". How, we might wonder, can the thought of moving one's hand bring about the hand's movement; how can physical discharges in nerves bring about the sensation of touch? Here we detect the hidden effects of self-reference, a fault in the problem itself. Hence Gilbert Ryle's famous dismissal of the whole quandary as a "category mistake". But the problem does not go away merely by declaring it vanquished. Its very persistence is a sign of the fundamental and unique dilemma of the self-conscious mind, located upstream, so to speak, from all ordinary strategies of thought. The task is to understand the dilemma itself, and the principal obstacle is the pernicious fact that the mind cannot stand outside the very dilemma it attempts to model. For thinking, like perception, is necessarily done from an external perspective, whereas the subject-- the agent of thought-- is the internal perspective.
The Mind-Body Problem is actually a complex of inter-related ones. And these fall roughly into three types. The first concerns the classical incompatibility of mind and matter; secondly, the problem of reliable knowledge for subjective beings; finally, the difficulties posed by dealing with other subjective minds. All stem ultimately from the fact of self-consciousness.
5. The Ghost in the Machine
Immaterial consciousness seems to inhabit a physical body and look out upon a material universe. This is the problem of accounting for inner experience in terms of an outer perspective-- Leibniz' famous "ghost in the machine":
"It must be confessed...that perception and that which depends on it are inexplicable by mechanical causes...And supposing that there were a machine so constructed as to think, feel and have perception, we could think of it as enlarged and yet preserving the same proportions, so that we might enter into it as into a mill. And this granted, we should only find on visiting it, pieces which push one against another, but never anything by which to explain a perception." 
The major philosophical attempts to reconcile these perspectives have been of two broad types, according to whether they are admitted on an equal footing or whether one is reduced to the other or otherwise dismissed as unimportant. Dualism holds that there are simply two kinds of existence in the universe--mental and physical--neither of which is reducible to the other. Monism, by contrast, takes one as primary and attempts to show how the other arises from it. There have been three major brands of monism: materialism (or realism), idealism, and "emergentism" (or neutral monism). The first argues that only the physical world exists. In recent times, this is the approach of stimulus-response psychology, according to which the mind is a reflex machine operating by association. Consciousness is held to be an "epiphenomenon" without causal power.
Idealism takes the opposite stance: only the mental or "phenomenal" world exists. Matter is but an idea, a theory, or construct of the mind to help make sense of the flow of experience. Western idealism has been taken up in modern times by cognitive psychology. Eastern idealism asserts that only the ground of Being is real. Both the inner and outer worlds are illusory--not that they do not exist but that one's unreflective relationship to them is a source of error and suffering to be transcended.
Theories of emergence usually extend materialism. In one version, mind, like life itself, is described as a property of the organization of matter at a certain level of complexity. This modern view relates mind to concepts like order and information.
The universe as a complex system appears to manifest intelligent design. To understand Nature as something like the work of human hands must have been one of the earliest and most natural reflections. But to infer that such intelligent design is literally the result of a non-material Artisan at play in the primordial soup is to duplicate the Mind-Body Problem on a cosmic scale. This makes God a ghost in the divine machine, separate from Creation in just the way humans have distanced themselves from Nature.
The notion of free will has traditionally depended on a concept of an immaterial self above the material laws of the universe, just as God is above them. The mechanistic view has gradually encroached on this notion, threatening to explain human behavior away as a mere cog in the machinery of matter, governed as strictly by causal laws as every other part of the cosmos. This is reflected even in jurisprudence, since it is unreasonable to hold a person responsible for their actions if these are determined by outside forces. This aspect of the M.B.P. becomes the search for a meaningful concept of free will and responsibility.
The mind-body split has influenced, and been influenced by, physical conceptions of matter and space. Without the metaphor of the container, there would be no inner and outer worlds. Without the metaphor of mechanism, there would be no abstract machine for the ghost to haunt. But what exactly gives us the idea of an inner space? Where is it located? To be sure, the body is sensed as containing a certain volume, and this is felt to be inside and to belong to us. But the body can also be experienced as external to the self as a pure point of consciousness. We identify with sensations such as pains, which seem engulfing in their urgency. At other times somatic sensations seem rather a part of the space contained by the body, a part of the physical world, surrounding and separate from the observer. The intimate or subjective senses are ambivalently experienced as qualities of the world or as bodily sensations. A certain flavor, for example, can seem to belong to whatever is tasted, but can also appear as a sensation in the mouth. This is manifestly not true of the distance senses. We inevitably experience seeing as taking place in the world outside the body, and never as a sensation on the body surface that the retina actually is. (Notwithstanding the painful sensitivity of the eyes to intense light, which is due to receptors connected with the diaphragm and not with the processing of a visual image). Under particular conditions (for instance on the threshold of pain), sounds may appear to be sensations in the ear, but normally they are perceived unequivocally as qualities of the world, localized in external space. The very idea of inside and outside originates in this difference between the near and the far senses. We are highly identified with the latter, and convinced of the objective physical world they convey. Through their ambivalence, the intimate senses, on the other hand, introduce the idea of subjectivity and cast doubt on the objectivity of the far senses. One could, however, turn the question the other way around and consider the puzzle (and the wonder!) of the illusory dimensionality and externality of space. How is it, in other words, that we see and hear things in the world rather than in our heads?
In the right conditions, the sense of touch can also be experienced as projected in space.  A tiny vibrator is applied to each of two fingertips on a person's hand. The rate of vibration of each stimulus can be varied independently, and the two can be coordinated so that the delay between them is slowly varied. When they are very much out of phase, the person feels separate sensations in the two fingertips. If the delay is reduced to a certain interval, the sensations fuse and are at first localized in the finger receiving the first impulse. But as the delay is further reduced, the feeling of the stimulus moves into and across the space between the fingers! Vision and hearing-- the projective spatial senses par excellence-- similarly involve the analysis of frequencies and the comparative inputs of two sources.
Since any mental event enters awareness in a sensory-based form-- that is, as an image of the world-- it is not surprising that imagination takes place in an interior space. "Thinking" is a catchword for a broad range of mental activities, of which deduction and induction have been abstracted as formal techniques. But even such formalisms are in certain respects spatialized--as, for example, in the mathematical idea of vector space or the Venn diagrams of set theory. As Kant maintained, the experience of space may be so primary that it is the condition for all other experience. Even pure consciousness-- without contents-- is sometimes described as an experience of empty space.
6. Skepticism, or the Problem of Knowledge
Through observation and reflection the early Greeks developed an attitude of skepticism toward the reliability of knowledge-- particularly that gained through the senses. Hence Plato's allegory of the Cave, demonstrating "the degrees in which our nature may be enlightened or unenlightened":
"Imagine the condition of men living in a sort of cavernous chamber underground, with an entrance open to the light and a long passage all down the cave. Here they have been from childhood, chained by the leg and also by the neck, so that they cannot move and can see only what is in front of them...At some distance higher up is the light of a fire burning behind them; and between the prisoners and the fire is a...parapet...like the screen at a puppet show, which hides the performers while they show their puppets over the top...Now behind this parapet imagine persons carrying along various artificial objects, including figures of men and animals...which project above the parapet...Prisoners so confined would have seen nothing of themselves or of one another, except the shadows thrown by the firelight on the wall of the cave facing them...And they would have seen as little of the objects carried past...Now if they could talk to one another, would they not suppose that their words referred only to those passing shadows that they saw?...In every way, then, such prisoners would recognize as reality nothing but the shadows of those artificial objects."
In this thought experiment Plato casts doubt on the validity of the mind's sensory impressions, imprisoned as it seems to be in the body. It is not specific facts or elements of experience which are questioned, but the general validity of empirical knowledge. He raises the question of whether it is possible to know ultimate reality-- that is, the world-in-itself. But Plato goes beyond skepticism to speculate on the nature of perceptual processes. In the passage above it seems to be his intention to model cognition and render an account of how the unenlightened mind comes to believe in a false reality. But since Plato is talking about normal perception, the allegory is a psychological theory as well as skeptical philosophy-- a forerunner of Kant's idealism and the modern representation theory of cognition, and perhaps a distant reflection of Eastern skeptical idealism. Plato is saying in effect that there must be some process going on in the mind whereby it represents to itself the objects of the outer world, in themselves unknowable. He recognizes that through the sensory channels we cannot know the world "directly"-- without the creative intermediary of the mind. In contemporary terms, the brain has access only to the pattern of neural firing on the sensory surfaces-- just as the cave dwellers are privy only to the indirect play of shadows. The prisoner in the cave of the skull makes theoretical judgments about the outer world, taking the shapes it sees in this shadow show for that world itself.
Skepticism has generally made its place in Western philosophy by harping on the doubtfulness of ordinary physical knowledge, rather than following Plato's lead in modelling the process by which we know what we think we know. Thus universal skepticism is dismissed by modern philosophers as illogical or pointless:
"Just as 'there can be false coins only when there are coins made of the proper materials by the proper authorities', so... there can be times when our senses deceive us only if there are times when they do not." 
But there is a broader sense in which all coin is false, since it is token and not that which it betokens. The value of coin is symbolic and conventional, unlike the usefulness of the goods and services it can buy. It is naive to think that truthful reporting of the senses means that reality is transparently presented as through a window. Our window on the world is of a different and subtler nature. The fact that an object is registered in experience may reflect the presence of a real thing, but the way that it is experienced reflects also the nature of the window, which is a good deal more like the view onto a stage. Objects, the principal characters in our reality play, are pragmatic fictions. The concept of object breaks down at the limits of the human scale.
Behind the shadow of appearances, is there, as Plato believed, a real world knowable by some means more reliable, direct or true than peering through the window of the senses? The metaphor of counterfeit money fails because it requires a domain of real values, a windowless perspective on the world (such as Plato proposed). But if perception is a representation-- a projected shadow, as he would have it-- it is not the shadow of anything which can be accessed independently of conditional mental processes, unless we are to believe that the mind does not depend on the nervous system. Rather, we see in the shadows what we need to see in order to keep our hand in the game of existence. Skepticism, far from being fruitless, renders a valuable service in making us look before we leap into action based on the too literal truth of our perceptions or beliefs. Knowledge of the world is always relative. Absolute knowledge is not knowledge of the relative world.
Plato's metaphor attempts to grasp what it is to be in The Situation-- in the position of an embodied self-conscious mind. The Mind-Body Problem has boggled philosophers for centuries because it is impossible for the mind to be both subject and object of its own thought. We know very well how to describe the world of matter. But self-perception is contrary to the mind's ingrained mode of experiencing all as world. Whatever enters the field of experience is an object of consciousness, and never the subject. The fact that some of these contents of consciousness are subjective is really a perception that they are somehow a property either of the physical organism or of its mental functioning, rather than of the world external to the body. Here are three levels of distinction. First, there is the physical world inside and outside of the skin. On the mental level there is the part of experience that seems attributable to the organization of one's mind versus the part that seems to reflect objective reality. Thirdly, there is the absolute subject which is interior to all objects of experience, physical or mental.
Cognitive psychology has taken up Plato's theme through numerous experiments demonstrating the mind's creative contribution to experience. In one situation, reminiscent of the Cave, human subjects watched a shadow cast on a translucent screen by a three-dimensional wire form. While stationary, the wire's projection as a shadow was perceived merely as a dark line on the flat screen. However, as soon as the wire was made to rotate, its true shape as an object came to life. In another experiment, kittens reared in a grey and featureless environment seemed almost unable to distinguish objects at all when released into normal surroundings. Plato also wondered what would become of human subjects rescued from his infernal cavern:
"Suppose one of them set free...What do you think he would say if someone told him that what he had formerly seen was meaningless illusion...? Suppose further that he were shown the various objects being carried by... Would he not be perplexed and believe the objects now shown him to be not so real as what he formerly saw?"
A middle-aged man who had been blind from an early age had his eyes restored through a corneal graft. Like the fugitive from the Cave, this man had to relearn to see. He could visually identify things familiar to him by touch, but had difficulty naming objects not already known in this way. Someone took him to see a complicated piece of machinery. He was unable to say anything at all about it until he closed his eyes and began to explore the device with his hands. After a while he stood back, eyes open, and proclaimed that now he could see it, and proceeded to explain its various parts and their functions.
7. Other Minds, Other Bodies
Some philosophers argue it is logically possible-- that is, conceivable-- that the various colors experienced by a person with normal color vision could be systematically interchanged in the experience of someone else, in a behaviourally undetectable way. This is like saying that the words of the English language could have systematically different meanings for different people, with no one the wiser. This is no doubt true in practice-- within very narrow limits-- because of the casual way in which language is used. But if discrepancies are large enough they are bound to be noticed under close enough scrutiny. I cannot expect to point to the leaves of a tree in springtime and call them red. Of course, the argument is usually made that one could have all the same names for objects in the world and still experience them differently. Thus, I could see a color that you experience as green and call green (springtime leaves), and I could call it green myself, yet experience it as what you experience as red (ripe tomatoes). This presupposes the idea of "me" somehow experiencing "your" experience. Apart from the possibility of my brain being connected to your eyes, I do not see any meaning possible for this idea. That it appears meaningful to some probably arises from their mistaking experience as a thing or domain existing objectively and independently of subjects-- a free-floating mental substance to which various observers could have access, as they do to the physical world.
Pain is often considered paradigmatically subjective and private. I cannot directly experience your pain-- obviously because my brain is not hooked up to your body. But it is not information about your tissue damage that is missing from my perception, for I could invent an instrument to extend, if necessary, my knowledge of your condition. The deeper issue is that I am not motivated to respond to your condition in the way I would be if it were my own. It is no question of privacy, no inalienable realm of one's "own" experience as privileged knowledge. Your tissues and mine are alike public domain. It is rather the relationship which differs, because this brain was designed in its responses to be concerned for this body. It is a question of values (intentions) rather than knowledge. Suppose my brain could be hooked up to your body. In that case it seems certain I would feel "your" pain as my own. Both our brains could be hooked up to both our bodies, allowing a simultaneous experience of the condition of each. Whose pain is it, then? Indeed, whose body?
Supposedly one experiences only one's own unique and private experience. But from a commonsense perspective, we all experience the same world, from differing vantages in space-time and in our own way. If all cognitive systems were qualitatively identical, and only numerically different, then all would perceive the world in the same way, differing only in spatial-temporal perspective. There could be disagreements about the world (whether, for example, it was night or day) but not different ways of experiencing it. Owing to a unique space-time locus, I could be experiencing pain while you are not. My foot could have been run over by a passing vehicle while you, standing a few feet away, were untouched. This does not make pain a private experience. I could be seeing the blue of the sky while you are seeing the dark of night. This does not make vision a private experience. My pain is an awareness of something physical and quite public--namely, damage to this body. Damage to that body will not be experienced by me as pain, but it will be experienced in some other way if I am nearby. The sky will not be experienced by me as blue if I am on the dark hemisphere of the earth. Of course, if the nerves connecting your eyes to your brain could be magically extended halfway around the earth, so that your eyes were right beside mine even though our brains were separated by thousands of miles, then you and I could see the same sky (though not precisely at the same time, owing to the finite speed of nerve impulses). Similarly, if nerves leading to your pain centers were connected to receptors in my wounded foot, you would experience the same pain as I. What then could it mean to say that we are each having a private experience of pain? What does it mean to say we are each having a private experience of blue? Is it really blue we are experiencing, as something in a private show, you in your tent and I in mine? Or is it the sky we are seeing, the common objective sky? Are we having separate but equal pains, or is it the objective damage to this foot we both feel (and see as well)? What makes experience personal is that it is for this organism. This is because the connections-- the pathways of information processing, both intentional and causal-- are within this organism. One could say, by the same token, that my knowledge of physics is for my personal use and information, as is yours for you. Should we then conclude that there is no objective science of physics or no world it is about?
In regard to both the inverted spectrum argument and the supposed privacy of pain, we could also consider scenarios where my brain is hooked up to inclusively more of the afferent pathways in your nervous system than just the pain receptors or the retina. Ultimately, what motivates this kind of thought play is wondering what my experience could be if my brain was hooked up to "all" of your brain? But what could that look like from the outside (let alone the inside)? What could it possibly mean for two brains to be "hooked up together"? Where would the joining nerves run exactly, given that brains are thoroughly decentralized?
The real difficulty posed by the apparent privateness of experience is not that it is a domain of privileged information, owing to hard connections between brain and body. Information is rather a public domain. What actually yields the sense of inviolable privacy is the possibility of deliberate misrepresentation that inheres in subjectivity, as well as in the ambiguities of language, so that the other is kept guessing as to one's inner state. Deception, bluffing, managing the other's image of oneself, are subjective stratagems; but even these are no ultimate weapons of privacy. Knowledge of other minds, like other types of knowledge, is a question of adequate models and of sensitivity to the information available. In poker, the cards are hidden, but not the faces and actions of the other players.
The inside and outside perspectives are different modes of collecting the same information. The neurophysiologist's determination that my nerves and brain respond in certain patterns to light of a particular wavelength is the same information as my determination that I am seeing blue. The intimate's "divining in a smile the oil of tears" is a perception of behaviour indicating the sadness another feels, and perhaps denies feeling. But a further difficulty arises because of the mind's imprisonment within its own systems of meaning. It is hard, for instance, to assess the words and actions of other people with whom we disagree because we can never be certain to what extent the situation is really as we see and feel it to be, or to what extent we are coloring it with our own biases or filtering it through our own defences. Each person may tell an entirely different story based on what are presumably the same objective events. As subjective beings we know that the mind is "prejudiced", to use Descartes' old fashioned term-- a system operating on particular assumptions. Other subjective minds have other thoughts, for which they claim truth as vigorously as we. And yet we know (as presumably they know) that another viewpoint is always possible, and that by invalidating the other's perspective, each could be missing something vital to their own perception of the truth. In this very personal sense, the problem of subjectivity is to distinguish what is of oneself from what is of the world-- a project begun in early childhood, and never really complete. It is the task of sorting out what we are imposing on (or excluding from) experience from what is imposed on it by others and by reality. The MBP is expressed in every act of brutality, in every gesture treating the subject as object, in every refusal to consider the experience of the other.
8. The Reality Principle
The Real is a category of serious, survival-oriented cognitive behavior, a construction of biological nervous systems. The fact that we experience the world as real, concrete, independent and external is a symptom of our sensitive dependence as organisms on an environment.
The organism is a closed system. Its dependency on an environment puts it in the position of a formal system with regard to a system more inclusive than it, because changes of rules or structure within the adaptive system (which by definition survives by changing itself) cannot be derived from nor entailed by anything within the system itself.  As a dissipative system the organism is driven by an external energy source; as a biological system it is part of and dependent upon an ecology external to it; and as an "interpreted" formal system modifications to itself must originate externally. Meaning for the organism lies outside itself. This is where the sense of reality ultimately comes from.
The world is real just to the degree that it determines experience. Were we disembodied minds, not bound to the laws of organic life and the physical universe, we would be free to create experience in any arbitrary way-- and not only free to follow whim, but obliged to, since the game of physical existence provides the rationale for meaningful activity and experience. Even dreams are rooted in reality, their images drawn from waking experience, their messages speaking to us of our life in the real world. Without a real world to respond to, the mind would have to create an imaginary one in which to move-- as in situations of sensory deprivation.
On the other hand, the human organism is not as straightforwardly tied to the Reality Principle as simpler creatures appear to be. We have the remarkable ability to see our own determinism, and thus transcend it, often leading to a more objective relationship to the world. In the same freedom, we create imaginary or ideal worlds as we please, along side the natural one, laying claim to the right to make gratuitous choices. It is in this sense that pleasure opposes itself to reality, rather than in the terms proposed by Freud:
"Just as the pleasure-ego can do nothing but wish, work for a yield of pleasure, and avoid unpleasure, so the reality-ego need do nothing but strive for what is useful and guard itself against damage".
Freud confuses the gratuity of imagination-- wishing-- with the search for pleasure, which he then opposes to the survival value of the useful. But pleasurableness has an ambivalent nature. On the one hand it is a quality attaching to objects or events; on the other, a cognitive judgment concerning them made by the organism with reference to their utility toward survival. The apparent opposition between a pleasure principle and a reality principle, which plays such a large role in Freud's thinking, disappears if we grant that both pleasing/unpleasing and useful/unuseful are survival-oriented discriminations, albeit on differing levels of mental organization. To say that we seek pleasure is to say no more than that we seek what eons of experience in the world have proven beneficial. The organism does not primarily seek pleasure but well-being. Pleasure is the built-in awareness of what is good for it (or perhaps, more precisely, good for the species). The subjectified notion of pleasure as an experience has come to seem like a kind of thing in its own right, rather than a state of well-being originating in the environment. The concept of pleasure, as distinguished from well-being, is an artifact of subjective consciousness. Of course, rats (which presumably do not have subjective consciousness) may seem to seek pleasure itself in stimulation, rather than some good which appears (to a human observer) objectively beneficial. This appearance, however, exists in the eye of the beholder, while the animal has simply judged the stimulus good, though perhaps in error.
The pursuit of pleasure, in Freud's scheme, is actually an expression of the Reality Principle, the pursuit of survival. Let us therefore understand something different by the notion of a pleasure principle. We could refer to it accordingly as the Impulse to Gratuitous Play, or something similarly awkward. Furthermore, a reality principle implies more than utilitarian preoccupations and goal-orientedness, but comprises the whole outward-leaning bent of the mind. In one light, this is the mind's tendency to project its own cognitive processes as an independent external world. In another, it is the search for objectivity and truth. Accordingly, we could call this broadly inclusive principle the Impulse to Reality, of which the many forms of realism and reification are instances. Or, in the interest of preserving a simplicity of language, we could continue to refer to them as the Reality Principle and the Pleasure Principle, but with a clearer understanding.
Apart from pure interest in truth-- which is disinterest-- the concern for the Real is a concern for the future, the spatially and temporally distant, the non-actual. Experience of the real world is largely a construction of visual space and the objects that occupy it. Cognitively, the mind imposes upon the chaos of sensory input various anticipations of patterns of input it has learned it might encounter. One never worries over the actual, but rather over the imagined. Paradoxically, the whole purpose of the Real is to provide a controlling bulwark against non-actual contingencies. One is therefore caught between two modes: accepting the actual and monitoring the potential. The first implies engagement in the here and now, absence of struggle, delight in the shadow of annihilation. The other implies goal-orientedness, fear and anxiety, disappointment and displeasure lurking behind the promise of mastery and survival. The quest for mastery is never guaranteed, and has a way of generating further problems. On the other hand, well-being is not assured simply by abdicating concern. The ego lives between a rock and a hard place, unable to achieve security yet bound by its mandate to try.
9. Self-reference and Subjectivity
The board-game reality, in which the only things that exist are those defined for the game and allowed by its rules, is like a complete formal system. All possible outcomes derive purely and simply from the rules and initial starting positions. What can be experienced within this system is coextensive with the game-world it defines. The question of a real world beyond its limit is undecidable.
The impossibility of transcending this game-world from within is what closes it upon itself. The meta-viewpoint of a player, in contrast to that of the playing piece, is able to represent the game in the larger context of the real world. This is not simply a matter of physical perspective, but of a more inclusive set of definitions, embracing a larger and more complex reality within which the game-world is situated as a subset. Not so for the playing piece, whose reality is simply the world of the game. We could likewise imagine entering the world defined by a piece of machinery.
Consider now a mind as a system, a game. From a point of view within the game-world of this mind, the question of a real world independent of it could be as undecidable as it would be from the point of view of a piece in a board game such as Monopoly. If such a mind were closed, allowing no input from the real world, it would, like a complete formal system, derive all its conclusions from a fixed group of already existing assumptions. Unable to sidestep a given mental set, it would ruminate over its certainties, taking refuge in the self-evident clarity of its perceptions and feelings, however unpleasant they might be. Images would be nightmarishly recycled, tapes endlessly replayed. In a closed mind-- a complete system-- there is no way out. There is only making the right moves (or failing to make them) in the mechanics of the game as already defined. There are no broader perspectives accessible, from which to view the issues with relative detachment. The game is disengaged from any larger context, and so the limit of the game is the limit of the world.
Pre-subjective consciousness is analogous to a complete formal system. The world from the pre-subjective point of view is fixed and final. Only the world exists. In its grandeur it is no more than what is prescribed by the unconscious rules of the game. Nothing beyond this world can exist, since the system lacks the ability to self-refer. There is no subjective self to harbor thought, feeling, perception or doubt.
In contrast, consider a system capable of self-reference-- a game in which the game itself is a defined element. Subjective consciousness constructs a meta-perspective or meta-language in a system that self-refers, pushing the mind over a threshold of complexity into Godellian "essential incompleteness". In theory we can transcend any model, value system or world, however complete and reliable it may seem. For the self-conscious mind, there is no final resting place of certainty.
Godel's proof regarding formal systems is a formal counterpart of subjective consciousness. It works by representing within itself statements about itself, just as subjective consciousness contains an image of itself. The "theorem" of subjective consciousness is limitative in the way that Godel's is: there are thinkable thoughts, and haveable experiences, the truth or reality of which are undecidable in any particular mind or state of mind. There is always more than meets the mind's eye.
Subjective consciousness is a reserve against the hubris of thought, a foil for the reifying tendency of mind. But it also plays a positive role. The world can only be objectively appreciated (real-ized) by a mind that is conscious of its own role in creating experience of it, just as truth can only be distinguished from provability in a system with essential incompleteness.
For the naively realist pre-subjective mind, the reality of the world is self-evident, unquestionable, given. For the subjectively conscious mind, by contrast, the identifying quality of the real is that it is always larger than thought and experience. Yet this fact remains indistinguishable from the effect of the self-reference. Subjective ideas and perceptions, as formalizable systems, can always transcend themselves just because they self-refer: a self-expanding system. How then can one say for certain that the transcendental quality of reality is any more than some sort of projection of the mind's self-referring capabilities? The realness of reality is, after all, its transcendent quality-- the fact that it is not an artifact of mind, nor capturable by mind. But if "transcendence" were a quality that mind itself generates, then how can it be the hallmark of reality?
There are three relevant cases: (a) The universe is finitely large and finitely detailed. Its complexity can be exhausted in human descriptions; eventually we will come to know everything. (b) The universe is infinitely large or infinitely detailed, or both. No finite system of thought can encompass its totality, and reality will always remain a mystery. (c) Quite independent of the nature of the world-in-itself, the nature of the mind as an open system implies that understanding of the cosmos can never be complete. Cognition is troubled by the equivalent of Godel's essential incompleteness, so that even if (a) is true we will nevertheless always surprise ourselves and knowledge will always be unfinished. And if (c) is true, how to decide between (a) and (b)? The apparent depth of reality could as well be a product of our perception.
While the Mind-Body Problem is a dilemma of self-reference, for pre-subjective consciousness there is no dilemma, since there is only one category of existence: the world. But the subjective mind faces reconciling the existence of things in the world with that of things that are mental. The problem is finding a metaphor to express its position as an epistemic system-- while the metaphor remains inevitably an element of the system itself.
Classical physics, in keeping with the definitions of scientific method, eliminates the subject from its discourse. For it, as for the pre-subjective mind, only the world (that we call physical) exists. Even when the processes under study are mental processes, they may be treated strictly as events in the physical world. In this way the domain described, like a complete formal system, is sealed off from the (larger) domain of description. Science, as an expression of the Reality Principle, simply skirts the paradoxes of self-reference. Classical physics is a formal counterpart of the pre-subjective attitude, while the scientific revolutions of the early part of this century parallel the rise of subjective consciousness.
10. Paradox and the Subjective Frame
Epimenides is the infamous Cretan who declared that "all Cretans are liars". The modern form of this paradox is the sentence:
(1) 'This statement is false'.
The sentence refers to itself and also negates itself. If it is true, then it must be false. If it is false, then what it asserts is true. Now a statement, P, is in effect the assertion that 'P is true'. This constitutes another statement, P1, which in turn is equivalent to the assertion that 'P1 is true'. Since this process can be carried on indefinitely, any statement is equivalent to an infinite recursion of statements about statements about statements... Thus:
'This statement is false' = "'This statement is false' is true" (contradiction).
For assertions that do not self-refer, there is no problem. If the statement is true or false, every recursive version of it is also true or false, accordingly. But for the self-referring statement, the situation is different when the statement is self-negating as well. Each recursive step reverses our verdict concerning its truth. But then consider:
(2) 'This statement cannot be proven in system X'.
Statement (2) is the formal or relativized equivalent of (1), since it is framed in terms of proof-within-a-system rather than in terms of truth. It contains no contradiction so long as the notion of contradiction has an interpreted meaning as "both true and false in some world larger than system X". Thus:
'This statement cannot be proven in system X' = '"This statement cannot be proven in system X' is true" (no contradiction).
But when the concept of contradiction also assumes a relativized definition, then (2) is a contradiction because it and its negation are both provable (derivable from the axioms of system X). Substituting provability-in-X for truth, (2) means:
"'This statement cannot be proven in system X' can be proven in system X".
And substituting 'this statement' for what it refers to, (2) becomes
"'This statement' can be proven in system X".
Therefore if (2) can be proven, then so can its negation, and so (2) is a contradiction. In other words, (2) is not a contradiction so long as there is a method of evaluating truth which lies outside the system. But it is a contradiction when it must be evaluated strictly from within-- in terms of provability rather than truth. We could generalize to say that contradiction or paradox can arise in subjective consciousness, as it can in self-referring statements and logical systems, when one is limited to a closed framework of thought. To transcend the terms of the paradox, it is necessary to expand into a larger system in which the contradictory theorems can be evaluated as "truths". The possibility of self-reference generates paradox in the first place, and also provides the way out.
11. The Ground of Experience
The classical distinction in philosophy between intensional and extensional statements is slightly misleading in the above context. Extensional refers to statements P about the world, or to propositions asserting the truth of such statements: 'P is true'. Intensional refers to statements of the form 'I propose that P is true'. Obviously, the latter is the subjectified version of the former, in which the subject is implicit. To the pre-subjective mind all propositions are extensional. To the subjective consciousness, on the contrary, all propositions are recognized as "intensional"-- as intentions of some mind that asserts them. All facts, in other words, are recognized as beliefs.
The extensional statement P is the formal equivalent of the awareness, experience or belief that P is the case. Furthermore, the notion that a proposition is either true or false (the Law of Excluded Middle) formalizes a fundamental fact of experience in the world. That P is either true or false is a formal abstraction of the apparent fact that an object either exists or doesn't. It is either present in awareness or not, and if it is not, it is still held to continue to exist unseen. The Law of Excluded Middle also reflects the basic cognitive decision mandate: the organism must evaluate stimuli in terms of their significance for its well-being. Specifically, it must decide to act or not in a given situation.
In the same sense that 'P is true' is a redundant version of P, the idea that 'Z is real' is a redundant version of the experience Z. In the same way that one cannot add to the truth of a statement merely by repeating it or insisting that it is true, to assert the reality of an experience is normally just to have the experience. This corresponds to the pre-subjective belief in the world-as-experienced. But just as we are suspicious of boasts of modesty, so we are doubtful of explicit claims of truthfulness. (The exception is the legal oath, since breach of the sworn oath constitutes a separately punishable offence.) Mind cannot add to its certainty by having the further experience that its experience is real. Rather, introducing such "meta" concepts raises an eyebrow, casts doubt on the experience when it is so bracketed. This doubt is the hallmark of subjective consciousness, reflected in formal statements as well as in normal speech. Adding "...is true" to a proposition simply acknowledges the possibility of falsehood. The "is true", like the "I propose that...", is taken for granted in our subjective culture since it is understood that any statement can be false. The possibility of falsehood places all statements, so to speak, in quotes. The formal expression of this skepticism is the notion of proof-in-a-formal-system, and is reflected in concepts of legal and scientific proof.
The occurrence of experience in subjective consciousness amounts to the proposition 'this object is not an object', where 'this object' refers to some element of experience as it is (pre-subjectively) apprehended to be part of the world. In other words, it is realized that this element of experience belongs not to the world but to the self. While we subjective moderns find no contradiction in this, we can imagine that pre-subjective man would have. It must, in fact, have been exactly this paradox-- of parts-of-the-world that are not parts of the world-- that led to the expansion of the human cognitive domain to include the subjective.
But when 'this object' refers to something in the subjective domain, the proposition becomes paradoxical even for us. For it then becomes equivalent to 'this experience is not a (true object of) experience' or 'this thought is not (actually) a thought'. The apparent absurdity of such statements led Descartes to found his philosophy on the seemingly irreducible primacy of experience. Must we not admit, however, that the numinous givenness of experience for the subjective mind could be as illusory as we hold that of the world to be for pre-subjective thought?
'This object is not an object' and 'this experience is not an experience' share with 'this statement is false' the fact of lacking a domain, meta to them, in which they can be judged as non-self-negating propositions of the form 'this statement is not provable in system X'. We accept the existence of objects-which-are-not-real precisely because we have the meta-domain of subjective experience in which to judge the reality of objects, just as we accept self-negating statements as non-paradoxical when they can be reformulated in terms of provability. Of the configurations of sensory experience, not all constitute external objects. The fact that there is a remainder is the basis of subjective consciousness. But is there a meta-meta-domain within which to decide the status of an experience-- not whether it is true or real, but whether it is a bona fide experience at all? The role and significance of conscious experience can be fully appreciated only when the domain from which it arises is brought into clear definition.
We have legitimized experience as a category yielding the very basis of a sense of self. One has experience, therefore one exists. This is the meaning of Descartes' cogito ergo sum. Then what else could it mean, to call into question the legitimacy of experience on this second level, than to judge and search experience-- not as evidence for something in the world-- but as evidence for a self? To be sure, the self remains unaffirmed by non-experience. But is it affirmed by experience? Philosophically we have been led, by the invalidity of some objects, to question the domain of objects in general-- that is, the reality of the world. In a similar manner, we might be led to question the validity of the subjective domain as the repository of a self.
The point of Descartes' argument is that, even if a given experience does not prove the existence of a real object, it does prove the existence of a subject. But is this actually so? The indisputable part of his assertion is this: while the content of experience may prove nothing about the world, the occurrence of the experience is unquestionable. But it is merely a tautology to say that if an experience exists, then it definitely exists. However, Descartes takes the further step of concluding that which he actually assumes in the first place: if experience occurs, then there must be a subject for that experience. Indeed, if we have defined experience as the artifact of a subject, then we are simply caught in circular reasoning.
Descartes' syllogism is popularly translated "I think therefore I am"-- which presupposes a subject for "thinking". It ought to read: "There are experiences, therefore I am". In an even purer form it could read: "The phenomenal world is inconsistent (giving rise to the concept of experience), therefore I exists". Either way, it is difficult to see how the conclusion follows from the premise. Rather, to conclude the existence of a subject from some facts of experience seems the same sort of mental act as to posit the existence of external objects on the basis of some facts of experience. In other words, the existence of the self parallels that of the world in that both are logical constructions. If objects are fictional, then so are subjects.
Descartes' reasoning may be illogical, but as a psychological process it may well describe how I concludes its own existence. And if I believes it is a subject for all experiences (in this field of consciousness), and an agent for all actions (of this body), then any such experience or action will be further proof to I of its own existence. This is on the same logical footing as the claim that every morning I make the sun rise, and every sunrise proves my omnipotence. According to Descartes, I exists even when the content of experience is illusory. But if I experience a dream, am I a real subject witnessing an illusion, or an illusory subject believing it is witnessing?
The ego normally arises as a kind of personal
theory about the coherence of experience, an explanation for the consistent
association of certain contents of consciousness. For example, the proprioceptive
and tactile sensations of this hand in picking up the cup of coffee, the
sensations of taste in the mouth, and of swallowing hot liquid in the throat,
as well as the somatic effects of caffeine to follow, all constellate with
visual sensations corresponding to hand, cup, etc., in an emerging sense
of self or agency. I, as the passive witness and motor force behind
this body, is how the brain makes sense of the association of these diverse
inputs. The sense of I-ness may be a wonderfully pragmatic theory that
normally works well in the evolutionary scheme. But is it true? Does the
self really exist? There are wide variations of the "theory". There are
people who believe they make the sun rise or control the weather. Some
schizophrenics appropriate a fantastic range of sensory input to the self,
believing themselves the focus and the orchestrator of great cosmic events.
Other mental patients, and some mystics, completely lose the sense of self,
facing a bewildering confusion of sensation with no unifying scheme to
make sense of it. Most people's experience, of course, lies between these
extremes. But normality does not establish truth. The fact that most people
have a normal self, the subject of consistent and limited experience, does
not make the self real. From the perspective of every spiritual tradition,
entered deeply enough, the existence of ego is considered an illusion,
the normal psychosis.
Part Two: EXTENSION AND INTENTION
In logic, the term extension refers to the set of objects that share some defining characteristics. It is distinguished from the complementary term intension, which is the set of defining characteristics those objects have in common. Extension refers to objects of thought or consciousness, including physical objects (it also therefore refers to the extension in space of such objects). Intension refers to properties a thing must possess so that a particular term can be applied to it. Indirectly, it implies an agent assigning properties to objects, and the operations of applying them. (The term intention in logic has a similar meaning: "an instrument, such as a concept, for knowing and referring to a thing as it exists in the mind").
Objects and events in the environment have extension in space, and also in the logical sense of being the recipients of qualities assigned to them by an agent for whom they mean something. If this agent is an organism, they have significance for its well-being and survival which the organism recognizes and upon which it acts. Meaning cannot be accounted for by physical causes, even though it may refer to them. It is altogether another form of description-- in terms of logical relationships rather than physical ones. Cause can account for the interactions within a system extended in space, all from the point of view of an outside observer. Only mind-- an intentional system-- can confer meaning, and so explain what goes on within the observer as subject rather than as object observed. Intentionality is what gives such a system the power to look outward at the extensional world. The difference between extension and intension --or intention, as it will be used here-- is the difference of perspectives which is the essence of the Mind-Body Problem. One is the perspective on events in physical space that is presented in phenomenal experience. The other is the perspective of (or from) the logical events going on within the cognitive agent whereby that phenomenal experience arises. The operations within a brain can be described extensionally, since they take place in physical space and time, and explained as a causal sequence leading to behavior. But the experience of the subject can only be understood intentionally.
In Aristotle's system there were four types of cause, each serving a complementary aspect of what explanation meant to the Greeks. The material cause of a change of state was the presence of a medium in which the change takes place. An efficient cause was some agent or preceding event that brings about the change. Its formal cause was its tendency or end state. Its final cause was its purpose, use, or reason for being. The first three types of cause are extensional; they describe physical operations in space and time. But the notion of final cause implies logical operations having nothing to do with space and time, and everything to do with intention.
According to Berkeley, Hume, and some later
philosophers, causality amounts to nothing more than a succession in time.
One event is regularly seen to follow another, and from this we understand
that one is the cause of the other. But cause intuitively seems to involve
power of one thing over another as well as a mere succession of events.
Hume criticizes this idea of "necessary connection":
"When we look about us toward external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able... to discover any power or necessary connexion; any quality which binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible consequence of the other... In reality, there is no part of matter, that does ever, by its sensible qualities... give us the grounds to imagine, that it could produce any thing, or be followed by any other object, which we could denominate its effect..."
Hume continues by arguing that we get this idea of power from our early experience of voluntary movement-- an idea expanded upon by Piaget. We learn to project the experience of power over our own bodies onto inanimate matter. Causality, in other words, is something projected into experience by the mind. It begins with the infant's noticing correlations among bodily sensations, visual impressions, etc. The baby learns it can "cause" its limbs to move by discovering that they do move in conjunction with certain sensations. Similarly, it learns it can indirectly cause the movements of other objects. But volition involves more than the mere association of sensations. It entails a concept of self, and a concept of a world on which the self can act, and from which it is felt to be distinct. Cause and world arise together as notions, when objects are recognized as entities mutually interacting and distinct from self. Causality is intimately bound up with the separation of subject and object.
The process, engaged in by the sensory mind, of evoking an interaction among external objects to organize the flux of sensory patterns, has its intellectual counterpart in the scientific quest for entities and causal explanations of the laws of nature. The finding of regularities in nature gives the power of prediction, especially if they can be quantified. Over and beyond that, we still want to know what sense can be made of these patterns. Must there not be an orderly reality underlying and giving rise to the flow of appearances? Explanation calls for a picture or story about reality beyond mere mathematical description. For this reason, continuity in space and time have been essential to causal explanation in physics. Intelligible pictures of how the world works are based on metaphors of everyday experience in which continuity plays a key role. What troubled Newton's contemporaries (and Newton himself), about gravity's apparent action at a distance, was the instantaneous leap across space and time-- the discontinuity that seemed to defy a causal chain. Various theories of gravity waves and gravity particles have attempted to bridge the gap. What is troubling about implications of the quantum theory is a similar causal discontinuity.
Modelling the world in terms of causes is also, of course, an everyday experience. There are stories we tell ourselves, and inner pictures we consult, to explain the motivations and actions of people. One has theories about how the world works. We are not only interested in foreseeing how people will behave but also want their behavior to make sense that we can assimilate to our own motivations. In daily living, we tend to demand certainty without the benefit of the accumulated evidence required in science. Thus, we are led to rely on belief, whose function is less prediction than satisfaction of an inner need for sense and certainty.
The ordinary notion of intention, as a conscious purpose, may be expanded to include any internal connection made within a "self-organizing adaptive system". Intentionality can be defined as the ability to make such connections. In this sense, intentionality is a complement to causality, both involving attributions of connection. For cause involves an observed connection between external events, which is believed to exist independent of the observer, while intention involves an agent making internal connections in response to external events. Another way to put this is that cause is the connection between events external to the observer; meaning is the connection of events to the observer; intention is the connecting of events within the observer which map external events with meaning.
A causal description of behavior appears as a sequence in time, beginning with the "initial conditions" of a stimulus and moving through connections which are to be understood as electrochemical processes in the body. An intentional description, by contrast, appears as a logical sequence independent of time, commencing with the initial conditions of (sensory) input and moving through logical connections toward a conclusion. One has physical laws and events as rules and operations, and the world of physical causes as field; the other consists of logical operations within a field of values or intentions. Winning has no meaning in the physical game-- life as a physical process is something that simply happens. The situation is quite different in the game of life as an intentional system, where there is a clear meaning to winning.
Motor behavior, and neural processes involved in perception, can be described in causal terms, but this fails to provide a description in terms of categories meaningful in the life of the organism. The meaning of neither behavior nor perception can be found in causal terms. Behavior cannot be explained causally (beyond the reflex level) because what could thus be explained is merely the behavior of isolated neural circuits but not that of the organism as a whole.
Scientific materialism cannot account completely for the organism, let alone the experience and activities of human beings. A song, a painting, a novel, or even a word cannot be described completely in scientific terms. All these involve meaning, which cannot be captured in terms of processes involving neurons, sound waves or molecules. Physiological explanation may be true, but is not exhaustive. An intentional system (while it may also be-- and perhaps necessarily is-- a physical system) has properties completely other than its properties as a physical system. When these manifest visibly as cultural signs, it is clear that these expressions carry meaning, which belongs to another domain. But even invisibly, unexpressed, the inner language of an intentional system which gives rise to consciousness constitutes a reality that is not physical. The problem (for the mind) is to refrain from understanding this mental realm in material terms, as a second kind of substance. To let adverbs be adverbs, rather than pseudo nouns.
All living things appear to manifest intention. The bean pods of certain plants, for example, explode when they are ripe and dry, scattering the seeds far from the parent plant. Some seeds have burrs that catch in the fur of passing animals. There seems to be a purpose at work, as the propagation of the plants is favored by this dissemination. In some sense the plants have learned their clever ways. But to call this a purpose or intention in the conscious human sense is to project our own experience. How then do we account for the seeming purposiveness of nature's activities? One solution would be to call it by another name. To say, with Aristotle for instance, that the seed-disseminating mechanism has a reason or final cause, as well as an efficient cause, without imputing any conscious purpose to the plant itself. But then we are left wondering whose reason? If we assume a Creator of the universe to have designed this ingenious stratagem for the plant, this merely removes intentionality from the system in question only to defer the problem by placing it in the hands of some other intentional Agent outside the system. It is scarcely more explanatory to impute a purpose to Evolution, to Nature, or to the Cosmos. We are left begging the fundamental question, which is to understand what purposing is, and what sort of entities can do it. The door to this mystery cracks open slightly if we generalize the notion of intention to include a wider range of phenomena than the conscious purposes of persons. From this broader perspective, human volition, goals, intentions, and their meanings, can be viewed as special cases of a category that also encompasses the adaptive and apparently purposive activities of plants, of robots, and of the parts of ourselves responsible for unconscious slips. To this end we must accept that, not just conscious persons, but organisms in general hold intentions. Whether or not a robot can ever be said to have its own intentions will depend first on whether the robot is an organism, and only secondarily on whether it is a person.
The concept of intentional system ought therefore to be broadened, so that an intentional connection is understood as a logical operation or relation. An intentional connection is one made or adopted intentionally by an agent, just as a mathematician creates or adopts the rules of a formal system. This is in contrast to causal connection, which is observed to exist independent of the agency of any observer. An intentional system can be understood as a formal system which is "interpreted" as referring to the real world.
Intentional connections are "real" to the degree they consist also of physical relations which instantiate them and which may be described causally. Then the mental is the physical. Intentional connections are "true" when they represent other connections which are causal. "Natural signs" are things in the world causally connected to the things they signify . While these connections may pre-exist epistemic systems, they are only given significance by intentional agents. A causal connection becomes a natural sign when it is represented by an intentional connection.
In the natural world, intentional connections are causal connections within an organism which map other causal connections external to it (except those representing some part of itself). In that sense intentional connection simply extends and reflects, within the organism, the causal connectivity of the world, so that the organism (in particular the brain) is an image of the world. It could be said that the intentional representation within the organism is caused ultimately by the connections in the world it represents. If this internal connectivity is simply part of the causal continuity of the world, then why single it out by calling it intentional?
The distinction between cause and intention has to do with the organism as agent. In our commonsense notions, causal processes originate in the environment and may affect the organism, but they are not held to cross the threshold of the creature's skin to determine its actions, except in the grossest reflex. Rather, the organism is perceived as autonomous, itself the causal origin of action. According to this picture, what crosses the organism's boundary is information, not physical cause. The organism responds to this information by acting to change not only itself but the environment. We might ask, how is this description anything but causal? How is "information" (which after all is tied to energy) anything other than a causal force in disguise? It must be admitted that the distinction is relative and ambiguous. The bottom line of what distinguishes information from energy or causal force is apparently the complexity of the systems involved. An organism is a system within an environment which is also a system. The roles of these are in principle reversible. One acts upon the other in a perpetual cycle. While the organism can abstractly be considered the environment of the world which surrounds it, there is an obvious asymmetry in space and complexity between the organism and its environment. It seems that we conceive of the environment (and of causal processes) as relatively simple, while it is clear that what goes on in the organism is highly complex. I believe it is this disparity, together with the projection of our own high-level sense of autonomy as conscious agents, that leads to the intuitive idea of information as qualitatively different from energy or cause. The difference is that information is for an intentional agent, whose connections are logical consequences as well as causal sequences in time.
Cause and intention are complementary descriptions. While all may be conceived as "undivided environment", with causal processes freely crossing the boundary of the organism both ways, it is also possible to conceive all as organism. This is the view of Maturana and Varela , in which the organism, as a completely closed system, does not act upon an environment at all, but only upon its own sensory inputs. To the observer it is clear that an environment exists, but there is no need for the organism to conceive of it, only a need to act in such a way as to maintain itself within tolerable limits.
Information, as a concept midway between matter and mind, holds promise to bridge the explanatory gap of the MBP. An intentional connection, within a physical organism, is also a causal connection because the transmission of information is tied to energy processes in the physical world. The strategy for bridging the explanatory gap then can concentrate on understanding how it is that a complex informational system (an organism) is subject as well as object.
Etymologically, the word intend means to "stretch out for, aim at". Its archaic sense means to direct or turn the mind, eyes, thoughts, etc. It is this directedness of mental states toward objects and events in the world that gives intentionality its meaning in philosophy as aboutness, in reference to objects or states of affairs in the extensional world. The traditional meaning in philosophy is closely bound to assertions, in language and logic, about the world. Beliefs and desires are intentional, since they have grammatical objects. A belief is always a belief about something or that something is true. Desire is always desire for something. Moods and some other subjective states, though consciously experienced, may not seem to involve assertions or to be about anything in the world. But if carefully introspected, moods and all emotional states are found to have definite, localizable referents in the body. These are specific sensations to which the mind attributes a meaning, even if it cannot be verbalized. Sometimes this meaning can be brought into consciousness through suitable techniques. What leads to the assumption of non-intention is the fact that, while the bodily referents of anxiety, for example, are more or less present in consciousness as various sensations, the mental imagery behind them (to which the body is actually responding) is not. This is comparable to the effect of subliminal perception, which is known to be capable of producing anxiety and accompanying physiological changes. These bodily sensations are the tokens bearing the interpretive mental content of emotional states. In other words, the bodily referents of feeling states are connected to thoughts behind them by the mental act we here call intending. This happens in just the way that words or mathematical symbols are connected to their meanings. Intention is simply a mapping from one domain to another, regardless of its accessibility to consciousness.
As in spoken languages, there is latitude for play in the language of this mapping. Subjective consciousness, after all, is possible only because of the absence of a strict correlation between experience and world. Nevertheless, such correlation must be the rule if the creature is to survive. Consciousness aims at the world even if it sometimes misses. Intentionality, as the aboutness of experience, must correspond closely to the survival-oriented programs of the organism. Emotional states must refer ultimately to the world, if only the part of the world that is the body, or to the organism's relationship to the world. Thought and perception alike are intentional. To see is to recognize and classify-- a process analogous to forming a theory about the nature of what is seen. Visual experience of an object is inseparable from the belief that the object is there, and there as seen. Now, pain and pleasure are also intentional, as are all other judgments. Physical pain is the belief of the organism that its tissues are being damaged. (While this refers to another level than the conscious self, certainly I may consciously recognize pain to mean tissue damage). Similarly, emotional pain is the belief that one's psyche is being damaged. The occurrence of pain or suffering is in effect a proposition about the world, as one's body and personality are parts of the public domain as well as apparently private experiences. Anxiety and other vague feelings are equally intentional if they have any significance at all to the organism. If one has a feeling of malaise, it serves the same function as pain in raising an alarm. The belief is that something is wrong, even if we do not know precisely what or where.
Nevertheless, some philosophers insist that pain, moods, and other "subjective" states are not intentional because they do not refer to anything in the world. For instance: "If I am conscious of a knock on the door, my conscious state is intentional, because it makes reference to something beyond itself, the knock on the door. If I am conscious of a pain, the pain is not intentional, because it does not represent anything beyond itself."  This is simply a mistake, and probably a result of the unfortunate fact that the concept of intentionality developed historically as an aspect of linguistic analysis, rather than as a biological or systems concept. Pain certainly does refer to something "beyond itself", namely some injury sustained. In the case of spontaneous pains (no evident injury), it may be said that the nervous system is in error. The fact that a system is prone to errors does not negate the meaning of its proper functioning. That there are pains that are false, in the sense that they do not originate in injury, does not mean that pain normally refers to nothing. The same is true of any sense modality. Visual and auditory errors and hallucinations are possible, but that does not mean that all perception refers to nothing beyond itself. There are two ways of looking, or two loci of interest. In one, we look past the subjective experience as such, to the real event it betokens. In the other we look at the token itself. It is like the difference between what words convey and the words as objects themselves. It is a mistake to treat pain (or any other subjective experience which is not an error) only as the word, as though it conveyed nothing.
More than a hundred years ago, Helmholtz proposed the metaphor of unconscious inference to explain the nature of cognition. What he was pointing to was the notion of intentional connection. The idea is that perception mimics the conscious activity of theory-formation and logical inference. However, it is perceptual processes which are primary, not language, logic, or scientific thought. Helmholtz's metaphor should be turned the other way around: it is logical inference and conscious theorizing which mimic and extend perception.
In language and perception alike, the mapping from one domain to another is intentional. Generally, we are unaware of the process of putting words together into sentences. Speech simply flows, we know not from where. We are similarly unaware of perceptual processes, simply experiencing the end product. And it has been widely recognized since Freud that a person can act with unconscious intentions. Is it not then absurd to pin intention to the narrow meaning as conscious purpose? In our daily involvement with creatures we concede that they act with intention, though we may be unsure how far down the phylogenetic ladder they should be credited with consciousness. Would it not simplify matters to assume that every aspect of an organism's activity is intentional, quite apart from the question of consciousness? This is simply a way of saying that an organism constitutes a system of meanings within and for itself. It is an intentional system as well as a causal system. It is both subject and object. The subject/object dichotomy arises in the distinction between cause and intention.
If a beetle, upon being prodded from behind, opens its wings and takes to the air, there is an intention and a logic in its behavior. Being bumped means to it a dangerous contact. Flight means possible escape. The difficulty is that we project our human experience of purpose, logic, and meaning (e.g. of "danger" and "escape") into the beetle's situation. Seeing it through our human representation of its situation, we are tempted to think that the beetle must similarly represent its situation to itself in some form of consciousness which we can only imagine like our own. This dilemma can be avoided by refraining from the temptation to project our own experience, or by reminding ourselves it is only a way of speaking. It is connectivity which is primary. Representation is an elaborate form of connectivity, and awareness is an even more conditional form of representation.
Just as the notion of causal connection depends on the existence of discrete objects, the notion of intentional connection depends on the existence of self-contained agents. In each case we must understand that these categories can be expanded, even to the point of dissolution. If the universe is one continuous and undivided process, it makes as little sense to think of individual agents as to think of causal connections. In such a universe there would be no problematic concept of intention.
14. The "Mathematical" Meaning of Meaning
From a point of view within the cognitive domain of science, we appear as organisms which are a product of natural selection. The outcome of the grand game of survival holds over us the power of life and death. The mind's experience of the playing field of that game as meaningful and real is unconscious recognition of this fact. The realness and significance of experience, in other words, arise ultimately from the fact of embodiment. That we apprehend the environment as a self-existent world derives from the fact that events around us (and sometimes far away) do indeed matter. As far as the Mind-Body Problem is concerned, the central point of embodiment is not that we are protoplasm, but that we are players in the game. It is the world in which we play that is the primary domain of our experience, the beginning point and end product of complex cognitive processes. Our brains are streamlined to exclude these processes themselves from cognition, just as the workings and controls of a well-designed aircraft are transparent, allowing the pilot's attention to dwell in air space. This is only possible because the aircraft itself embodies a great reserve of knowledge about aerodynamics, mechanical engineering, and so forth, which may be taken for granted.
The organisms that exist are those that have survived by taking reality seriously. We are committed to this game. Were it not so-- if we led a ghostly disembodied life unaffecting and unaffected by the world-- would we be compelled to regard experience as anything more than a dream? If indeed, in such a condition, we could experience anything at all! For consciousness itself is surely a motivated strategy in the game. Were we indifferent to the state of our tissues (or lacking them altogether), pains would not hurt nor would pleasures feel good. If we did not identify with the physicality, welfare, and purposes of the body, there would be little reason to take reality seriously enough to bother to represent it in perception. There would be no basis for experience.
The bridge between the domain of the organism, as a self-contained closed system, and that of the environment, is the organism's intentional mapping between these domains. Experience always informs the creature of its relationship to the world. This is obvious in the case of spatial relations: objects are perceived as distant or near in relation to the body. The fact that something tastes "good" is cellular knowledge, so to speak, of its chemical relation to that substance. Sometimes, of course, this knowledge is inaccurate or incomplete (there are poisons that do not taste bad, or bad enough to steer us clear of them!) The fact that an object looks near or far, or tastes good or bad, is an aspect of the creature's knowledge of what to expect from it and how to conduct itself in regard to it. All perception, in other words, is imbued with the priorities of the organism.
The most alien creature from outer space would probably share our elementary response patterns merely by virtue of being, as we are, a product of natural selection. Such is not (yet) the case for machines, but the issue of intentionality, and the role of embodiment that underlies it, is crucial to understanding what constitutes life and mind. In particular, it poses the question of whether, and under what circumstances, artificial life and artificial minds are possible.
The information processing model of mind assumes an input and an output, a formal system linking them, and a programmer-observer who intentionally defines the system in his own cognitive domain. The organic model of mind assumes a physical body, as part of a larger causal system, developing through natural selection in the course of long genetic histories. A cognitive domain belonging to the creature itself is thereby established. The information processing model has (erroneously) assumed that an organism or its brain can be exhaustively codified. A formal system can be completely specified because it is an intentional creation of the human mind. It contains exactly what was put into it by its creators. But a biological system is not the invention of its investigators, but part of the world-in-itself. Biological systems conform to our descriptions only in the way that the real business world conforms to the game of Monopoly.
The domain of information supplied to the computer, its operational guidelines, and its output alike have meaning only in the cognitive domain of the user. The desktop computer has no cognitive domain of its own because someone else has determined the relation between input and output, between its states and the world to which those states refer. Nor has it any motivation or basis on which to specify such a relationship itself. The basis for an organism's intentionality is its bodily insertion in the world, which provides the values, axioms or guidelines on which it makes its decisions and constructs its representations of the world. Consider the computer "Hal" in the film 2001. Hal was, in effect, embodied. The entire spaceship was Hal's body, and the humans on board were mere parasites initially tolerated because of their symbiotic relationship with the host. When the humans began to pose a threat, Hal acted in his own interest, and in what "he" believed to be the greater interest of the mission. The present day computer, we may be glad, has no body and no stake in the world. The current generation of digital computer is a tool of human purposes, not an imitation organism.
It is sometimes said that the computer has only "derived" intentionality and not the "original" intentionality of organisms. This distinction parallels that between third and first person points of view, respectively. But original intentionality is the only kind there actually is. The confusing notion of derived intentionality arises in linguistic analysis (where an intentional statement is a type of sentence rather than a type of action denoting the state of an agent). But if intentionality is rather a defining property of an agent, then no linguistic expression has intentionality-- derived or original-- since no linguistic expression is an agent. A book (or a statement) could only be intentional if it were itself an agent-- if, for example, it could write itself and read itself.
Descartes was probably the first to see the possibility of a mechanistic explanation of consciousness. By means of the coordinate system that bears his name, he discovered that geometrical figures could be expressed as equations, and vice-versa. The equivalence of geometry with algebra, of visible shapes with abstract formal operations, had escaped the Greeks in spite of their fascination with number and form. But this insight was the clue that illumined Descartes' search for the nature of mind as mechanism. Just as geometrical figures are generated by algebraic operations, so are the shapes and colors we experience in vision, for instance, generated by logical operations represented by physical events in the brain. The intuition of Descartes the mathematician was to see the relationship between brain and mind as like that between algebra and geometry-- a relationship above all intentional. 
The language of experience is as conventional as the language of numbers or words. In the meaning of each symbol we find nothing necessary in itself, but only whatever the mind has agreed to. The redness of the color red, the hurtfulness of pain, the spaciousness of space, the solidity of objects, the realness and externality of the world--all are conventions the mind has accepted as given. Cognition is like an interpreted formal system, one pressed into representational service. Other interpretations could be possible for a given system, and other systems could map the same territory. The subjectively experienced suchness and realness of experience derives from accepting the premises of one's cognitive system, in much the way that logical conclusions derive from accepted axioms, expressing the mind's irreducible intentionality-- its "animal faith" in its own cognitive axioms. This faith is underwritten by, and ultimately refers to, the fact that organisms in possession of such a system survive. We are here because we are just what we are, and the world is just as it is in our experience for the same reason.
Descartes sets out first to reduce physics to the mathematics of space. For him, extension in space is the only objective quality of matter, and space is in turn reducible to number through the coordinate system. Physical "movements" in the brain could thus embody logical or numerical operations, which in turn could represent spatial relations-- and hence exterior reality. The mechanisms which served as Descartes' model were unsophisticated-- clocks, windmills, programmed waterworks, etc. But even lacking the modern concept of information, Descartes understood that these were devices capable of representing, transforming and transmitting numerical operations-- in short, computers. He grasped that the brain is the organ of perception, and that the afferent nerves relay a display of signals, not a copy of the world.
Descartes had studied the optics of vision by dissecting an eye in such a way as to actually observe, from behind, the image projected upon the retina. Long before the invention of photography, the camera metaphor was suggestive-- and also misleading. For in no way does the mere transmission of an optical image in the eye explain the process of vision. If it did, we might as well imagine that television sets can see. Vision is rather an intentional process of interpreting the image. To the brain, an image is a pattern of signs to be given meaning rather than a copy of the world. This points to another way in which the camera metaphor is misleading. In looking at an object and at a picture or image of that object, we can see that they are isomorphic, and that there is an analogy between the lens of the camera and that of the eye. But this tells us nothing of intentional mappings, represented by neural transformations in the brain, as opposed to optical transformations taking place in the eye. We cannot conclude, on the grounds of the camera metaphor, that there is an isomorphism between our experience of the object and the object itself. To do so is to confuse the optical image with the experience that is somehow generated in the brain on the basis of that image.
15. What it is Like to Be an Intentional System
While the brain may be a causal system whose output is behavior, experience is not the product of a causal system but of an intentional system. Whatever else it is, the brain must be the physical support of an intentional system.
Experience, like thought, involves representation, which is not any kind of thing, but an abstract system of mappings or symbolic operations. This raises three questions: 1) How does the cognitive system create this representation? 2) How does the representation come to be experienced as real-- that is, to be experienced at all? 3) What is the relation between the representation and the reality it represents? The mystery of experience lies in the fact that the mind, an abstract logical system, has an internal perspective at all. The miracle is that there is any such thing as conscious experience. We've scarcely gotten used to seeing ourselves as the part of matter that sees. This is in part because seeing is not a property of matter per se, but rather of its organization as an intentional system.
Without the subjective frame, however, there could be no mystery surrounding experience, since it is self-consciousness that creates the category of experience, without which only the world exists. Common sense would insist that the pre-subjective mind must nevertheless be conscious (though unaware of being conscious). Yes: aware of the world as object, but without the self-conscious sense of having experience and of being a subject. We could as well speak instead of the mystery of the world: how a brain can organize an intricate system of internal connections, into the vivid reality that presents itself in experience. We take the world for granted, as self-existent or as God's creation, whereas in fact it is the monumental accomplishment of the human nervous system. In other words, we mistake the world as given in experience for the world-in-itself.
Now let's look more closely at the process of this accomplishment. If perception is an interpretive process, it cannot be a matter of copying what we perceive through an open window, so to speak, because that begs the very thing we are trying to explain, which is how the mind comes to have experience at all. Experience-- in this case visual -- cannot simply be the passive transmission of an image such as that formed on the retina of the eye. We are not just looking through an opening onto the world, nor merely through a lens, for this implies someone else who is looking out the window from inside. Then we would have to explain that person's experience-- and so on in an infinite regression! Descartes recognised that the mechanics of the eye did not explain vision. He pointed out that to think of the image on the retina as explaining how we become conscious of what the image shows, is to assume another pair of eyes inside the head watching the scene on the retina. What is seen is actually the final product of the interpretive process, but we are tempted to take it for the beginning point of departure. Hence, we are caught in a circular reasoning. The interpretation that goes on in the brain, that underlies and is the essence of vision, is like a deductive process of reasoning from premise to conclusion. The problem is that we have no idea what the premise is. Everything we experience and know is part of the conclusion-- the brain's product, the show of experience. We can only talk about the premise in the familiar terms of the conclusion, and therefore we are sorely tempted to think of the world-in-itself as some element of experience. Then they seem to resemble each other, and this creates the illusion of the open window-- that seeing is just looking out through the holes in our eyes at a world that simply is what we see.
There is no window, and eyes are not just holes leading in to another pair of eyes, or to a soul that somehow sees for us. And if there were such a pair of inner eyes watching the retina, the little being they belong to would be sealed inside a windowless head. He would have no way to directly check the inner scene he is watching against an outside world. The buck must stop somewhere. This little being, or homunculus, is just a stand-in for the process of interpretation we are trying to explain.
So, let us let him (or her) stand in, to see what must be accomplished and how one might go about it. Imagine, in this thought-experiment, that you are him (or her), sealed inside a chamber with no windows or exits to the outside. In fact, at the beginning at least, you have no reason to think there is such a thing as "outside", and no way to imagine it . You are not actually provided with a movie screen, like closed circuit TV, but only with complex instrument panels busy with flashing lights. This corresponds to the situation of the brain, which is connected by nerves to the retina. What the retina itself presents is not yet an image, only a scintillating array of signals from firing sense receptors. (There is an optical image, of course, but the whole point of this exercise is to examine how the analog optical image is read or recognized after it is "digitally scanned" into the brain by the retina. See also section 16, following.) You also have at your disposal vast and complicated control panels of levers and buttons (you have no idea what they're for!) These correspond to the brain's motor pathways to the muscles and organs. In short, there is an input and an output, and you have to figure out how to connect them appropriately. But appropriate to what? You don't even know what is supposed to be going on here! Don't be discouraged. It took the brain many millions of years to work all this out. So we won't put any time limit on your project here.
Naturally, you are going to have to proceed by trial and error. Suppose you try that lever over there. (Suddenly there is a lurch. Apparently you are "inside" something that is "moving"-- but this is an aside from offstage, for it will be eons before you develop such "concepts".) You try another lever, and now there is a really serious lurch as the tray with morning coffee goes flying across the room and you with it. You pick yourself up, a little shaken, realising there must be something you can do to avoid these mishaps. Remember the pattern of lights on the panels just before? Well, keep a sharp eye out. Oh, there it is again! What if you push those buttons over there? Go ahead, see what happens. Uh-oh. Sorry. Well, keep trying!
With patience and persistence you eventually get the hang of "flying blind" so as to avoid upsets.  You make endless discoveries, taking notes on what works to avert catastrophe, and these you formalize as a terribly long list correlating instrument readings and buttons to be pushed. When a particular command sequence is called for by a particular instrument display, a new instrument display results, calling for a new command sequence-- and so on, in a perpetual readjustment. You begin to find ways of organizing and structuring all this data so as to reduce it to general principles wherever possible. The structure at the highest level of all this "data processing" is a theoretical model or map that begins to take shape-- a vision of a hypothetical world outside. The model represents the same information as the table of correlations, but in a highly condensed form-- much like a three-dimensional object contains and represents all the possible two-dimensional profiles it can generate. But in essence it is nothing but a program of instructions about how to relate input and output. You test and refine your program, continually updating it through new experience "out there".
The model shows, moment to moment, what "objects" to look out for, where the clear paths are, which things are sources of fuel, how far away they are, etc. Imagine a sonar map in a submarine, but much more sophisticated and detailed: you have information about size, shape, wavelength of light reflected by objects, and minute details of their structure. In postulating an outside world, you have created a theory that helps make sense of the mass of data. And you even come to call this navigational activity "seeing". Of course, you have no direct contact with objects or the space they occupy. These remain theoretical features of your model. Nevertheless, you can't help experiencing the theoretical territory implied on your map as real and external. The very act of agreeing to this project in the first place has led inevitably to the sense of a real world. All you've been doing in actuality is playing a complicated game inside your sealed compartment, performing operations that are meaningless in and of themselves. But because your comfort (read: survival) seems to depend on playing the game in a certain way, you've lent it the weight of reality.
Now that the novelty of the challenge has worn off, one day you get the idea that all these tedious operations could be performed as well by a machine. So you set to work in your spare time doing a little soldering to see if you can invent some circuitry that will execute the program you've created. It turns out to be an enormously complex and lengthy project, but you persist. In the end you build a computer so huge it nearly fills the entire room. But it works-- squeezing you out of a job and nearly out of a home!
A few things to note about this episode: First, there are no windows, so there is no question of your model resembling a real outside world, because you never have the opportunity of directly comparing. Therefore, you were not creating a portrait of the outside world, nor a copy of anything at all. An entirely different sort of creativity is involved, more like divination or reading tea leaves. Second, the accuracy of your model can only be defined in terms of how well this divining works. If disasters are avoided, then your model "resembles the world"-- by definition. Third, accepting the challenge of the situation led to the inner model becoming projected as experience of a real outer world. You began to see an image in the patterns of tea leaves at the bottom of your cup-- a real world in the patterns displayed on your panels. Fourth, all of this was accomplished with software that was eventually embodied in hardware-- namely, a brain. Fifth, the key to experience or mind is the interaction with an environment that matters. To be sentient-- as to be alive-- an artificial organism would have to have its own priorities and purposes that matter to it with the urgency of life and death, a situation brought about for natural organisms through selection. No gain (or loss), no pain (or pleasure).
16. The Problem of Cognitive Domains
The notion of objectivity or absolute truth implies that there is some way the world really is, apart from anyone's actual perceiving of it. This, presumably, was the countenance of the world before there were any observers to observe it. What happens, when the observer tries to give shape in imagination to this unimaginable countenance, is that one's actual experience is mistaken for the world-in-itself. It may seem quite reasonable to think that the universe is simply the way it looks to us, and that (apart from its dynamic evolution in time) it appeared much the same before the arising of life and conscious observers. But there is a subtle error involved in this assumption. We need only ask: appeared to whom? What does it mean, in other words, for there to be an object without any possible subject, or whose appearance is universally the same to any subject? This question cannot arise for the pre-subjective mind, but as conscious subjects we are stuck with it. It's the quandary of Berkeley's famous "If a tree falls in the forest..." We will refer to it here as the problem of cognitive domains, because it involves mistaking the domain of one's experience for some other domain of objective truth.
A mind has only the relative and subjective realm of its thought and experience in which to speculate about possible other realms such as an objective world or an absolute truth. It is likely to paint its picture of the latter in terms of the former:
"Mortals suppose that the gods are born and have clothes and voices and shapes like their own. But if oxen, horses and lions had hands or could paint with their hands and fashion works as men do, horses would paint horselike images of gods and oxen oxlike ones, and each would fashion bodies like their own."
In other words, we can imagine the territory only as it is portrayed to us in our map. Unwittingly, and circularly, we take this image on the map to be the territory which the map portrays.
From the point of view of the subject, a cognitive domain is the range of experience of a mind-- all that is "expressible", so to speak, in the system of that mind. In terms of behavioral description (of the object), it is the range of discriminations an organism can make.
Every creature has its cognitive domain whether or not we think of it as having conscious experience, for all creatures make discriminations. Many rely on sense modes radically different from the familiar five senses. To mention only a few, these include sensitivities to water pressure (depth), polarization of light, infrared and ultra-violet light, magnetic fields, etc. Each sense modality also defines a separate cognitive domain. The visual appearance of a wound to one's body is in a different domain from the felt experience of pain associated with it. A distinct level of processing within the nervous system may also be considered a cognitive domain. These considerations would apply to an artificial system as well.
As an open system, an organism is immersed in an environment with which it exchanges information as well as energy. This is the situation as described by a human observer. It may be that the organism has no abstract concept of its environment in the sense that we do, let alone concepts of information and energy. It may appear to us that the organism perceives and acts upon the environment perceived by humans, while its representation of this environment is limited by its cognitive domain. But this is highly anthropocentric. Moreover, the whole situation can be viewed quite differently. A nervous system can be regarded as a completely closed loop.  Changes on the sensory surfaces initiate activity in the brain which (from an observer's point of view) results in some action on the environment. But this action can be regarded as taking place exclusively upon the sensory surfaces, since its effect is to bring about changes in them which the creature holds to be desirable. In this way, all that the organism is ever dealing with are transformations of its sensory surfaces. Its goal is to maintain the latter within certain limits, just as the homunculus within the giant head maintains his instrument readings. The very idea of an environment is an intrusion from a human cognitive domain. The irony of this solipsistic analysis, of course, is that the human observer making it is in the very same position. He too is an organism engaged in maintaining constant a set of internal conditions, and all his theories are but a part of this process of self-regulation!
While conscious experience is the culmination of elaborate processes, which themselves remain outside awareness, every stage in a flow of information processing may be considered a distinct domain. Each domain, in other words, is the subject of propositional knowledge about the presence of certain entities. Out of this knowledge is assembled a new domain, which can in turn be searched for higher entities. This bears on a long-standing debate in cognitive science concerning the role of images (and therefore of consciousness) in the forms of representation used by cognitive systems. A representation is a mapping from one domain to another. It may be propositional in the way that a book, which consists of statements, maps or represents the subject it covers. An image seems rather an analogue, but can be understood in propositional or digital terms. Whether or not a particular point on a television screen is illuminated constitutes a proposition, and from the ensemble of such digital events a global analog representation emerges that embodies the accumulated propositional knowledge of prior stages of information processing. We must bear in mind that it is the human brain that constructs the cognitive domain of the image from the domain of scintillating picture points. (The pattern of dots may mean very little, or something different, to a cat or a moth, or even to a human who has never before seen a television, or one experiencing an altered state.) The mind may then search the domain of the image for propositions in yet higher domains of meaning-- esthetics, heroes, plots, etc. Each level is part of a hierarchy of constructed domains. Analog and propositional are terms relative to the level or domain in question. They are not mutually opposed, but have a dialectical relationship in the hierarchies of the nervous system. An image is a domain defined by a set of propositional operations. Further propositional operations may be performed upon it.
A language one fluently understands is a different domain than the collection of sounds ones hears as gibberish before learning the language. Similarly, the babble of the senses, before it has been processed in the nervous system, is not the same domain as the sensory experience which results from that processing. Confusion arises around the idea that we can have some access in awareness to stages of sensory processing prior to the end product which we experience. The hypothetical notion of sense data was invoked by Locke and later philosophers as a kind of pseudo-object in the Cartesian style. Sense data, presumably, are what we would experience if we could experience the domains of sensory input and other pre-processing stages of perception. In fact, the nervous system is not designed so that "we" have conscious access to these levels. One is, however, able to exercise special attitudes toward what is perceived. Every painter, for instance, knows how to "flatten" visual space and see objects, not as three-dimensional things, but as shapes and areas of color bounded by lines. We fancy that such objects of introspection bear some resemblance to lower domains of sensory processing, but they constitute in fact a higher domain as subjective artifacts of conscious attention.
The world has survived the comings and goings of generations of observers. It seems to persist during one's inattention or sleep. It must have existed before we were born and even before the arising of life. It is reasonable to think that it will continue to exist after one's personal death and after the passing of all life from the earth. While the existence of the universe may not depend on us as observers, certainly our knowledge of it does. The universe we know is a product of our own mental activity in a specifically human cognitive domain. It is this knowledge we mistake for the universe itself. But surely something must exist "out there", in its own right and not just as the experience of some creature. If cognition is a map, surely there is a territory! The problem is how exactly to conceive it. Experience is the product of the map, and the territory can only be known through experience-- through the map. Every perception or conception concerning the territory is part of the map. The territory itself is unknowable, since knowing is by definition the map-making activity of a cognitive agent.
The subjectively conscious mind can grasp that it constructs experience of the world as a representation in a cognitive domain. It can understand that its experience is not the world-in-itself, just as a film of a real scene is not the scene itself, but constitutes a separate domain. It can imagine the scene unfilmed, but cannot picture the world-in-itself unpictured. As though at once film-maker and audience, we are eternally confined to watching our own documentary on the the world outside. When the show is over and the lights go on, we discover that what we are presently witnessing is also a movie, a story nesting the previous story. We are trapped in the domain of film! In the same way, the proposition that there exists a reality untouched by mind is itself but a mind's assertion. Any notion of an absolute world, outside all cognitive domains, is nonetheless an idea in a cognitive domain. This is why the good Bishop Berkeley kept God around to hear the trees that no one else heard falling in the forest: to exist is to be perceived by a mind (or so he said). The raw fact of mind-- of being a cognitive organism-- is that we experience all within a finite cognitive domain. The specific achievement of being human is to have a highly flexible and relatively objective cognitive domain, with some conscious control over our point of view. But how can we pretend to have no point of view at all?
Concerned about the difficulty of explaining experience in terms of physical cause, a contemporary philosopher writes:
"If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features must themselves be given a physical account. But when we examine their subjective character it seems that such a result is impossible. The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view".
But it cannot abandon all point of view. An individual subject is absolutely unique if only because no other observer can share precisely his point of view in space-time. The observer in physics is an idealized standard based on the relative interchangeability of subjects, but the point of view of the observer is nevertheless a point of view. What makes the standard possible is the agreement precisely not to consider "subjective" aspects of experience in the field of discussion. What does this actually mean? It means not applying the subjective frame to one's own experience of observing, as well as eliminating measures which cannot be quantified, repeated, etc. It would be irrelevant for an observer to record her personal experience of observing-- unless it qualified the reliability of the observation-- for the physical world is the field of discussion, not the experience of the observer. But this does not mean that the observation could be made without personal conscious experience-- by an unconscious observer or by a machine. Perhaps some observations are so routine that they can be made as "automatically" as one drives a car. Many are recorded by instruments. Nevertheless the significance of the measurement must be considered at some point if it is meaningfully held to be an "observation" at all. At some point consciousness enters.
Points of view, particularly ones that pretend to objectivity, are usually identified with the visual sense. More than the other senses, vision lends itself to a confusion of cognitive domains. It is easy enough to think that the quality of pain does not exist "in itself", but only as a judgment made by a nervous system. It is much harder to grasp that the same reasoning must apply to visual "appearances"-- leading to the conclusion that the quality of a visual appearance has no more objective existence, outside a nervous system, than that of a pain. Classical science attempted to eliminate all subjective qualities-- such as feelings-- from its descriptions, in theory leaving only properties accessible to any observer, regardless of subjective state. (Implicitly, this means any human observer trained in the methodology of western science). Vision is paramount for reasons related to its quantifying and objectifying capacities, which make consensus relatively possible. In most instances we can discriminate with more precision visually than with other senses, which facilitates agreement about measurement. But structures in the world indicated through visual perception must be distinguished from visual qualities (such as the color blue), while we must understand that the experience of color is itself an appreciation of a structure in the world-- namely, the fine structure or frequency of light.
The ideal of science, modelled on the objectifying quality of vision, has been to describe the world as a realm beyond the limits of the senses. And instrumentation has vastly extended these limits. The ancient Greek thinkers, and their Renaissance admirers, sought to distill out of the flux of phenomena the unalterable real aspects of matter. They set about to create a theoretical domain transcending sensory experience, yet this conceptual realm was in fact based on the visual sense.
Scientific or objective description is supposed to take place from a "third-person" point of view. Yet all description is necessarily in the first person: from the point of view of "I". So-called objective description, which leaves out mention of the observer's experience or excludes conscious states of the observed organism, merely fails to acknowledge the consciousness of the observer. What is meant by "third person" is simply that the observer is talking about the external world, not about his personal experience. It cannot be pretended, however, that the observer has some way of knowing about the external world other than through personal experience.
All observers stand in a first-person epistemic relation to the world-- either through the instrumentation of the observer's own body or through some external device which extends the agency and the epistemic relationship of the observer. The fact that I can estimate the frequency of light either through my sensory experience or with a spectrometer does not place these measures on a different epistemic footing. The spectrometer may isolate frequency better, and measure it more precisely, than human vision. But the idea that the measuring system is objective, because it has no subjective viewpoint of its own, is absurd since it is not the device which is making the measurement but the observer.
First and third person accounts are distinct domains of description. Though temperature and pressure are subjective first-person experiences, they are also macro properties of molecules which may be "objectively" described in third-person language. But what does this actually entail? It means that the conscious subject as observer notes the reading on some instrument that is not the observer's body-- e.g. a thermometer or pressure gauge. This reading is held to correlate with an objective property of the matter in question (e.g. a gas). To experience this same property "directly" or "subjectively" means to measure its effects using one's own sensory organs as instruments. Another way to put this is that felt temperature and pressure are experiences of "what it is like to be" the instrument which is the observer's body.
Third-person observation isolates a system by separating the system-to-be-observed from the system-which-is-observing. If we try to expand the account to include the latter, we simply redraw the line somewhere else, redefining the observer who is still excluded. So on in an infinite regress! The deep truth revealed here is that the subject can never be phenomenal object. The problem of consciousness (if there is a problem) is not resolved through third-person description, but only deferred by transferring consciousness from the system observed to an observer supposedly outside the system.
Nevertheless, the scientific picture-- at least as portrayed in popular accounts-- pretends to depict what the object looks like before it looks like anything at all: the naked object, the unmade-up face of the world. In favor of the ideal of objectivity science rejects the cognitive domain of ordinary (first-person) experience as merely a cognitive domain, only to construct new cognitive domains that it does not acknowledge as such. Implicitly it holds its entities-- no longer perceived but conceived-- to be the building blocks of the objective world-in-itself, while these conceptions often remain tied to acts of visual imagination. Though the validity of scientific models may depend strictly on their mathematical power of prediction, their intuitive appeal refers back to ordinary (subjective) experience, cloaked as objective constructs.
Cognitive science implicitly adopts the domain of physical description-- the world portrayed by physics-- as the causal substratum of the phenomena it researches. This gives rise to some confusion concerning the nature of the fields in which mind grazes. Merely to explain that the brain organizes its picture of the world, based on its contact with the world it pictures, is too vague and obviously circular to be satisfying. Scientists therefore have recourse to entities, held to be more fundamental than the objects of ordinary perception, as the starting points for causal explanation of cognitive processes. But it is only a convenient manner of speaking. One is never aware, in any sense, of one's own nerve impulses, or of the photons or molecules which trigger them, nor of any other such theoretical constructs in the domain of science. We are simply aware of the world as presented in our normal cognitive domain, which includes the objects encountered in daily life, but not the microscopic events of physics or neurology. To begin with the world of physics as the point of departure for explanations of mental activity must be done with circumspection. For the whole biological enterprise of cognition leads up to and includes the physicist's constructed version of reality, which is then recycled as the starting point! Schopenhauer likened this bootstrap operation to the Baron von Munchausen who-- in order to cross the river without drowning-- lifted himself and his horse above the water by pulling up on his own hair! The ordinary human cognitive domain cannot logically serve as the raw material out of which to construct the ordinary human cognitive domain.
The Mind-Body Problem is, above all, a problem of cognitive domains. The mental appears as a subjective domain, somehow caused by the objective physical one, while the latter appears simply to be the world, rather than an appearance in human consciousness. The objective physical world, by definition, is held to be a domain existing independently of the perceiving or knowing mind. But the subjective domain of experience is not caused by neural processes. Rather "experience" and "neural process" are descriptions in distinct cognitive domains of the same event.
Consider the two cognitive domains of sight and sound. The sight of a starting pistol going off in the distance with a puff of smoke, and hearing the sound of the shot an instant later, are two experiences registering the same occurrence in the world in two cognitive domains. One is not held to cause the other, neither is considered an "epiphenomenon" of the other, and there is no philosophical problem with their relationship. This does not stop philosophers from claiming that the sight and the sound as subjective experiences are both epiphenomena of objective neural processes or are caused by them.  The fact that the relationship between physical processes and experience is held to be problematic is the Mind-Body Problem. However, the subjective is not an epiphenomenon of the objective. Rather, the two are experiences of the same thing in different cognitive domains.
Certainly experience is a correlate of brain process, because the latter is a transform of events in the world which cause the brain process and to which the experience refers. For this reason, my experience of the pistol shot contains the same information as that registered in someone else's cognitive domain who could happen to be observing my brain process at the time of that event. (Unless I could attend to the two experiences simultaneously, this observer could not be me, for what would then be the referent of my experience would not be the pistol shot but some visual experience of seeing my brain or some thought about various measurements).
It makes sense to say that brain processes cause behavior but not experience, because 'brain process' and 'behavior' are elements in the same cognitive domain-- that of the observer, whether it be myself or someone else. The cognitive domain of first-person experience is distinct from that of the observer, both in content and in logical level, even when both observer and subject happen to be the same. (In that case, one is observing oneself observing oneself observing oneself... ad infinitum. Nevertheless, in this hall of mirrors, each instance of "observing myself" is on a different logical level, defining a distinct cognitive domain).
"Qualia", "sense-data", "phenomenal appearance", "raw feels", etc., are objects of observation when experience is bracketed as such, defining a cognitive domain distinct from that of the world. The cognitive domain of my first-person experience of the pistol shot as an event in the world is distinct from that of my bracketed experience of the pistol shot as an element of a private inner subjective show. If there were but one cognitive domain in question-- that of events in the world-- there would be no problem. There would only be the pistol shot going off-- period! One could extend the description of events in the world to include a causal description of the effects upon my body's sensory system, its startled flinching and minute chemical and physiological changes. Nowhere in this description would anything be bracketed as "experience". Alas, this would be the scientific dream of objectivity come true, if it were the case! But even to speak of "events in the world" (as opposed to what?) already subtly presupposes subjective awareness.
The specific quality of experience in a particular sense modality-- what visual experience is like as opposed to, say, what auditory experience is like-- is not knowledge of the world but of the workings of that sense modality. There may be something which can be learned about the world through vision that cannot be learned through hearing, but it is not the flavour, so to speak, of visual experience. Rather, knowledge of what seeing is like is knowledge "by acquaintance" of human vision and, more generally, of what it is like to be a conscious human subject.
Objective knowledge of the world is abstracted from knowledge by acquaintance. It refers to facts about the phenomenal world but not, in a sense, to the phenomenal world itself. It is knowledge of structure, which means differences of qualia, but does not refer to that which the differences are are of. Such knowledge is objective in the sense that it is invariant per standard human observer. This is analogous to the situation in dynamics, where the observer cannot know absolute velocities but only the relative difference between his velocity and that of another object or observer. I cannot know your experience of the color red, nor you mine, but we can both be aware of differences between two shades of red and communicate about them. The perception of such differences is what we mean by objective knowledge or information. Since by definition it excludes sensory qualities, we should not complain that it is deprived of them, or be troubled to explain how the domain of subjective experience (that is, of sensory qualities) arises from domains of information or other such constructs. On the contrary, if all perception is perception of difference, then the experience of color (and of any qualia) is itself a perception of differences, not among qualia, but in the objective world. The experience of a given color must then be a perception of the fine structure of light, just as the experience of tone is a perception of the fine structure of sound. The Problem of Cognitive Domains is that an objective domain is conceptually abstracted from the domain of experience, and then an attempt is made to derive the latter from the former. Owing to the fact that these domains are not on the same logical level, there is an inevitable "explanatory gap". We want to understand how conscious experience can arise through physical processes in the world, while both "conscious experience" and "physical process" are categories on a different footing than each other or than the unselfconscious awareness in which the world simply is. It is as naive to hold that the world-in-itself is the reality given in concepts of physical science as it is to believe that it is the reality given in everyday experience. While both scientific concepts and everyday experience refer to structures in the world (i.e. differences), both also "fill in" such information with the qualities of experience or imagination. We do not see blue light and think "this is a structure of such and such frequency". Rather the experience of blue is the perception of that structure. Similarly, the concepts of wave and particle refer to structures in the world, yet are imaginative extensions of experience in our ordinary cognitive domain. Perhaps this is the reason for the increasing mathematization of physics. Mathematics alone is free of "quality". Knowledge of the world-in-itself ultimately can only be mathematical.
The error at the core of the Mind-Body Problem is that the world of physics is mistaken for the world-in-itself, as the initial condition in an explanation of how "experience" arises from "material processes"-- or how qualities arise from seemingly denatured information about structure. Yet material processes are only known through experience, and qualities are a perception of structure.
The Problem of Cognitive Domains is the fact that we are not content, like the ancient Taoists, to let the world-in-itself be ineffable, unnamed. But either it is transcendent and unknowable in experience, in which case it cannot be what is given in our ordinary cognitive domain (nor in any other cognitive domain than that of mathematics). Or else it is knowable in some cognitive domain, and so is not independent of mind. In the "equation of experience", there is no isolated access to the variable of the world-in-itself, because "accessing" is an action of the other variable, mind.
17. Coloring It Real
Apart from whatever sense in which the world is real, realness is also a quality projected upon it by the mind, a judgment concerning the status of experience.
We may observe how structure in the input is preserved in various stages of information processing. If structure is considered the bare bones of reality, we may wonder how the mind fleshes out this skeletal structure with the qualities characteristic of the "show" of experience. If we consider structure or information to be, so to speak, the raw material of the factory of mind, how does it become the finished product we experience?
But there is something fishy about this question, for 'information' and 'structure', far from being raw materials, are highly refined constructs in the cognitive domain of science. Structure is no more what remains, when the perceptual world is stripped of its qualities, than the outlines in a coloring book are what remain when the colors are removed from a photograph. An outline must be deliberately drawn in, structure must be intentionally imposed.
Information or structure certainly can be considered the starting domain, the raw material of mind-- but only arbitrarily and conventionally. This is equally true of perception or sensation, which are sometimes treated as analog domains from which cognitive judgments are extracted. The problem is that one never experiences such a thing as a pure perception or sensation free from cognitive judgment. In other words, there is no such thing as a sense datum. Rather, a perception or sensation is a cognitive judgment. A pure musical tone, or a pure color not associated with a physical surface, is not an informationally superfluous filling in of some structured domain of sound waves or light waves (--an epiphenomenon!). Rather, these sensations are informationally rich judgments concerning the structure of those domains. Specifically, they are estimations of frequency. This is straightforwardly true in the case of sound: the experience of tone emerges as the wave fronts impinge too rapidly to be distinguished individually. But what is the sound of one wave lapping? It is certainly not a tone, which is the global effect of a collection of wave fronts.
The case of color is more complex. Apparently, color is distinguished on the basis of the relative intensities of low and high frequencies, for which there are separate sets of receptors. Color vision does not operate, as once thought, through direct sensitivity to frequency. (The fascinating experiments of Land-- of Polaroid fame-- are instructive). Though frequency is not precisely the structure mapped by color experience, the latter nevertheless maps a set of relations in the world that is relevant to the organism. Both the experience of color and of auditory tone can be regarded as isomorphisms of structures in the world, alternatively described in domains created by reductive science. They are the experience, in the ordinary human cognitive domain, of those structures .
In the case of sound, at least, the tone heard and the frequency measured by instrument are two equivalent expressions of the same cognitive judgment. (In the case of color, the relation may be slightly more complex). In both instances, in addition to this cognitive judgment, structure in the sensory apparatus itself may be projected into sensory experience-- since it can only be experienced as structure in the world. A clear example of this is the organization of the perception of sound into octaves. Vibrations of frequencies x, 2x, 3x, etc., are perceived as qualitatively the same note in different octaves. There is, of course, no such qualitative structure in the continuum of sound frequencies. The mind is responding rather to a quantitative structure through its experience of quality. The human eye perceives but one octave of the electromagnetic spectrum, which it divides into a quasi-discontinuity of colors. Yet it is apparent that if the eye were sensitive to a wider range of frequencies, perceived colors would repeat in a way similar to perceived octaves of sound, for the farthest ends of the humanly visible spectrum (violet and red) begin to resemble each other qualitatively . In both examples this is due to the similar reaction, by the receiving sense organs, to wavelengths that are multiples of each other. An oscilloscope also displays the same information: that a frequency and its multiples are congruent.
The apparently mysterious, projective, filling-in faculty of mind is ubiquitous so virtually transparent. Only in perceptual anomalies do we notice it at all. These include completion effects, habituation, adaptations of various sorts, and other phenomena of projection. Some examples are given in the Appendix. But the question suggested by these phenomena, of how the experience of tone or colour arises from an analysis of frequencies (or some other construct in the domain of scientific description), engages us in a subtle misunderstanding, because the experience of sound or color is the subject's experience of analysed frequencies. The question suggests a homunculus in there (or a brain or computer) computing answers to problems formulated in the very cognitive domain one is trying to explain. Beginning with a demon in the machinery, we end up with the ghost in the machine. For no matter how good causal descriptions get at explaining the performance of perceptual systems, they never seem to demystify the miracle of experience. The experience of the little man, doing his calculations, is of symbols and quantities, dials and levers-- all in the domain of his sealed control room-- not of qualities such as color and tone in the world outside. Tones, colors, smells and other qualities may indeed be understood as completion effects. But they appear as superfluously filled in, within and distinct from some skeletal structure of information, simply because such structure was abstracted from phenomenal qualities in the first place. (This is the subject-object split on an intimate scale). The quality, for instance of greenness, is "filled in" between wave fronts of light in just the way that the quality of being fifty years old is filled in between one's fiftieth and fifty-first birthdays: that is, by intention. The irreducibly self-luminous quality of qualia is not a property of the world but an act of the intending mind. The mystery of how structure, mapped in neurophysiological processes, can result in experiences of color, tone, pain, or other qualities, is no more (or less!) mysterious than the process by which sound waves can carry meaning as words, or algebraic symbols come to be imbued with numerical significance.
Nerve impulses, sense data, or other constructs in the domain of science, can be taken as the initial conditions for the cognitive processes in question-- but only by convention. By analogy, in an "interpreted" formal system such as the set of integers, we do not begin with a bunch of meaningless squiggles and then find referents for them, but rather we begin with the intuited meanings of numbers. Abstraction and generalization come as afterthoughts in the history of mathematics. The abstractions of numbers are then conceptually recycled as though they came first historically, since logically they do in the cognitive domain of abstract algebra. In the cognitive domain of psychology, there must similarly be some starting point in the chain of explanation, and so psychologists and philosophers have invented a variety of them. So be it. But either the starting point is the world-in-itself and not "the physical" (which is already a mental construct)-- and hence there is no question of the mental arising from the physical. Or there are specifiable conventions ("the physical") from which the qualities of experience unaccountably arise. Since science has chosen the latter course, we may have to live tolerantly with dualism, but we do not have to be hoodwinked by it.
Intentional states are physical connections within an organism which are also logical connections within the mind of the organism as an informal system. The flow chart of behavior can be described logically or causally. In this sense, the mental is the physical, for they are two analyses of the same behavioural system. This identity still leaves out the fact of conscious experience, for they are both third-person descriptions. How do we get, finally, from third to first person? How does the object become subject? How does a system have experience, have a point of view? What is the solution to the Mind-Body Problem?
We can recognize here the stalemate I have called the Problem of Cognitive Domains. For, ideas of 'logical connection' and 'intentional system' are abstracted from extensional experience, while we want to know how experience of the extensional world arises from "mere" logical connection within an intentional system. If we are not willing to accept as an answer that it arises by intention-- in the way that words come to have meaning-- then we are besotted still with the ineluctable fact of being conscious subjects in the first person. If intentionality is not acceptable as a solution, then I propose that we are forced to simply accept that there is indeed "something that it is like to be" an intentional system, just as we are forced to simply accept that there is a cosmos rather than nothing. The two great mysteries remain untouchable because we cannot get upstream from either existence or consciousness. Matter is, and our conscious experience is the point of view of the material systems inquiring about it.
18. De-realizing the World
Though experience is always a function of two variables-- the world and the self, the objective and the subjective-- the mind's tendency is to ignore or discount the subjective aspects and origins of cognition. Whether knowledge is perceptual, scientific, ideological or religious, one likes to think that the world simply is as one believes or experiences it to be. It is tempting to disown epistemic participation by claiming that one's experience is driven by reality, a direct access to the objective variable. Naturally, one doesn't then dwell on perception or belief, but rather eschews language smacking of subjectivity, pointing instead "directly" to a supposedly objective realm. Pointing to the world effectively directs our own and others' attention away from the mind's subjective input to experience. Focussing on someone else's behavior, for instance, may mask one's own intentions and present one's actions simply as appropriate responses to the other or to the situation. The pretence to objectivity may yield a short-term gain in control of the other, but forfeits the power we have as subjective beings to shape our own experience and behaviour.
Since it is the seeming independence of the world from mind that defines it as real, we tend to objectify everything about which we need to feel certain. We create a world of values, perceived to be independent of us, in which to discriminate as we do among physical objects. If knowledge, attitudes and beliefs are to be held as meaningful, they must refer to the possibilities of action within domains of vital concern to the organism. Knowledge or belief about imaginary realms, on which no action could be taken, is but fantasy. And action, if it is be justified, must seem driven by objective necessity. We want to feel compelled to do what we do by forces or reasons outside us, beyond our control, more substantial than mere whim or subjective and arbitrary intention. If the perceptual world is to be experienced as real, if cognition is to have meaning, if belief is to be valid, and if behavior is to be justified, the dependence of experience, knowledge, belief and action on subjective mind must be denied. And the denial itself must be denied. Reality must have no antecedent, no cause in the mind, but must spring immaculately into existence unhampered by awareness or acknowledgement of mental procreation.
This virgin birth of reality manifests in various forms and levels of realism. We are born realists, and realism as a philosophy recapitulates the fundamental outward orientation of the brain. The brain automatically factors out subjective aspects of its input precisely in order to leave an objectified picture of the world. For instance, changes on the retina due to movements of the eyes or head are not credited to objects, which continue to appear as stable entities. This is because of the need to represent the environment in a way that facilitates choice and action within it. As the brain is an organ of survival, its focus is toward an unambiguous assessment of the options upon which survival depends. It therefore leans naturally toward absolutes.
Choice is more difficult in a relativized universe. And yet there is a point at which programmed behaviour breaks down, despite its unambiguity, no longer adequate to the complexity of the situation. The mind may long for the security and certainty of reality or truth. But embracing the mere experience of realness, however comfortable, may be illusory and far from secure.
While the world has a real look to it, the subjectively conscious mind suspects that this appearance is somehow a product of its own looking, and that seeing with real-colored glasses on can be less than reliable as a guide to what is-- not only in the details, but in the large. The question of the status of experience is problematic in both Eastern and Western philosophy. Sages of both hemispheres have always told us that the apparent reality of the world is illusory.
Many biologists today feel uncomfortable with the idea that evolution has a direction. Some scientists in contrast, in the new fields of complexity and self-organizing adaptive systems, perceive that there is an inherent direction of evolution in such systems toward increasing complexity. I would add that an increase in complexity in a cognitive system implies an increase in objectivity as well. Mind represents the world to itself, initially for its limited and parochial purposes. Its primary responsibility is to map the world in whatever ways have selective value in survival. Its cognitive programs are designed for advantage, not for truth. The mind therefore treats its cognitive beliefs as true and real, in order to be the better bound by them. As the representation becomes increasingly competent as a tool of survival, it also becomes increasingly comprehensive, global, abstract, and free floating-- that is, disengaged from particular mechanisms. At this secondary level, the mind's responsibility is to be flexible enough to change its programs, allowing the organism to adapt to changes in the environment.
Subjective consciousness is a power of the mind to transcend and change its own programming. At the cutting edge of this development, the human mind has abstracted and idealized the drift toward objectivity. One dimension of that idealization is science, another is the quest for spiritual freedom from the contingency of experience. In both cases, mind seeks to free itself from illusion, and to transcend the identified self-interest which is the axiom of cognition in an organism that is a product of natural selection. Truth begins as a strategy in the game of survival. The game itself, of natural selection, continues to disturb life and cause it to adjust, complicate and expand its capabilities of representation, responding with ever greater subtlety to the world. The movement toward objectivity is paid for with an overhead of complexity, separate selfhood, and self-consciousness. Once its picture of the world is complete enough to include itself, mind is able to model its situation and to grasp that it lives in a context of illusion. This awareness is the price to be paid for the privilege of self-conscious existence. Mind becomes capable of touching truth, even though it was designed merely for advantage.
In de-realizing the world, as in splitting the atom, an energy, or potential, is released and at the disposal of the subject. This energy was formerly locked within the bond between experience and behavior, in an atom of compulsive response. As experience is subjectified, the power given to the world to determine the flow of one's mental-emotional processes is taken back within the psyche and experienced as conscious choice. All experience then takes place "in quotes", with the proviso that it can be considered a subjective artifact rather than a reality "out there". The little man takes himself off automatic pilot and resumes personal responsibility for interpreting his instrument panel and choosing a course of action. It is only the belief in the external significance of events that compels particular response. In questioning such beliefs, we find the freedom to act rather than merely react.
19. The Evolution of Consciousness
As brains evolve toward greater complexity, mind evolves toward two seemingly opposed capacities: relativity and objectivity. To relativize is to bring experience in relation to the perceiving subject. To objectify is to discern a reality independent of the subject. These two movements are united as the polarities of a dialectic, which is the motor of the evolution of mind. Relativization involves contextualizing the existing model for the sake of creating a more adequate and comprehensive one.
To understand the role of consciousness in biological evolution, we must be clear what is meant by consciousness. We have an image of the experience of other creatures as an interior life, whether or not we imagine that they are also self-conscious. But this image is a product of our own self-consciousness, which is not the same as the simple awareness we picture as the interior domain of sentience. In other words, we subjective humans create this category of "simple awareness" in our subjective cognitive domain. The state we imagine as simple awareness is always, for us, some version of subjective consciousness. Self-consciousness of a system implies the emergence within it of a subjective point of view. Only a self-conscious system can ascribe to itself a point of view. This is the only solid meaning that can be given to having a point of view at all. Otherwise, the question of the sentience of a cognitive system remains indeterminate, for unless a system is self-conscious, any point of view ascribed to it is really that of another (self-conscious) system-- the observer. This is the basic problem involved in imagining the experience of other creatures (let alone machines). Clearly, the Mind-Body Problem can only arise in a self-conscious system-- and inevitably does! The contrast between subjective and objective (first and third) points of view is inescapable for us, simply because we can conceive the distinction. Therefore, as self-conscious observers, we continue to insist that there is a Mind-Body Problem, even though we may firmly believe in a naturalistic explanation of consciousness. We continue to puzzle over experience even if we are convinced that the properties of a system which render it conscious are specifiable behaviorally or structurally.
Not every causal system is intentional. Probably not every intentional system is aware, and almost certainly not every awareness system is self-conscious. Subjective consciousness is a meta-awareness, which suggests that simple awareness itself could also be a meta-state in relation to some yet more primary mental activity. If this primary activity of a system is what we have been referring to as representation, intentionality, cognitive modelling, etc., then simple awareness would be some level of this system taking cognizance of events within itself. When information enters the system, simple awareness would be the registration or representation of the fact of this entry. In other words, it would be a monitor for incoming impressions. It is possible, of course, for input to be stored directly in memory, bypassing the monitor. There would be an advantage, however, for the system that knows what data has entered it. Simple awareness would acknowledge information at the point of entry. There is anatomical evidence supporting the idea of awareness as a monitoring system separate from a primary flow of information processing. The main pathway from the sensory surfaces to the cortex is not in itself associated with awareness, which depends rather on a separate structure, the Reticular Activating System.
The effect of monitoring input is to call attention to the stimulus, which means to reiterate as significant the information which has entered the system. Since it is significant in relation to the system, there is an implicit self-reference. This is a subtle point, for it is certainly possible for a system to sort information into categories without engaging in self-reference. But the difference in effect is like the difference between the phrase "the green tree" and the statement "this tree is green". The former is purely extensional whereas, in the latter, the greenness of the tree becomes the object of an assertion. We may speculate that only when information becomes, so to speak, a grammatical object does it enter awareness. Awareness is a relationship to its object that is analogous to the relationship between grammatical subject and object, linked by the operation of a verb. Of course, ordinary statements, while implicitly intentional, are not self-referring in the ordinary sense. That explicit level of self-reference corresponds to subjective consciousness.
The fact that humans can engage in functional acts of perception which do not involve awareness might appear to complicate the naturalistic explanation of consciousness. It is the basis for "zombie" arguments that a person (or machine) could-- without consciousness-- do all the things that a supposedly conscious person does. It obliges us to account for additional factors, besides intentionality, involved in conscious perception. This means showing why one organization rather than another should give rise to conscious experience-- the very heart of the Mind-Body Problem.
It has been demonstrated, for example, in numerous experiments that information can be retained in memory without entering awareness. That is, a person can note some detail, not knowing that she has noted it, and yet be able to act on the basis of the information noted, recovering it with at least a statistical certainty. However, this certainty belongs to the cognitive domain of the testing observer, while the subject is merely guessing. In awareness, by contrast, the information not only is known, but the fact that it is known is also known-- and so belongs to the cognitive domain of the subject. The aware system has its own internal certainty, since it keeps track of its own contents. There is a clear advantage in precision and reliability of the information retained, as well as the ability to use it "at will" in the future, when the subject consciously knows the information-- when it is information for the subject rather than for the observer. Therefore, consciousness is functional. A zombie simply could not do all the things his conscious counterpart can do.
Whether or not information becomes consciously represented is generally not a conscious decision. Contents pre-consciously screened out continue to be elaborated unconsciously and to maintain potential access to consciousness. The relation between conscious and unconscious is in constant flux, the actors coming and going from stage, waiting for their cues behind the curtain. The Unconscious is not a compartment of the mind, but a shifting relationship between potential and manifest.
In some sense, the curtain or screen of consciousness is an interface between internal subsystems, or between levels of processing, just as a computer monitor displays an interface between parts within the total system comprised by human user and computer. An "image" in such a display is a way of organizing propositional information, an analog synthesis of digital processes, a global representation on which various specializing subsystems can perform their appropriate operations, and from which they can draw information contributed by the other subsystems. An image is a synopsis of the work performed in various departments, under continuous internal redrafting. The great corporate bureaucracy does the bulk of the routine legwork, which includes preparing images, while the conscious system is reserved for novelty, for executive decisions it makes by reviewing such images. "Image", here, does not mean an optical display but what is read into of a pattern of information.
Attention, as the volitional aspect of awareness, is the ability to control the flow of information through the awareness system. Attention is drawn by the unexpected, but may also create its own novelty through intentional focus. It seems that an important role of the awareness system is that it facilitates access to memory of events deemed novel enough to enter awareness. The mind knows where to look in memory for contents which once entered awareness, since it tags such contents for retrieval through the focus of attention.
Awareness is a strategy to deal with the unexpected-- that is, with those situations not automatically covered by the existing algorithms of the system. Since reality is larger than any formalism, it is always presenting something unexpected. Routine situations, already mastered, do not require awareness, but new situations do. It is an advantage to a system to be open to ongoing modification through interaction with its environment. The hallmark of awareness is precisely that it is an open-ended response to the world.
The cognitive system transcends its fixed algorithms by creating an awareness system meta to them-- a system that interprets aspects of its information flow as features of a real world. In turn, it transcends this fixation on a real world by creating subjective consciousness-- a system that reinterprets aspects of its real-izing capacity as processes within itself. In a sense these movements are opposed, but the essence and evolutionary advantage of each is the same. Both increase versatility and objectivity. If there is a need to relativize and subjectify experience and thought by disengaging its formal aspects, there is also a corresponding need to reengage on higher levels, to assert more adequate models, to reinvest in better metaphors and explore wider worlds. To leave a nest is to find oneself nested in a larger matrix of seeming reality, and the task of subjective consciousness is posed again on a new level. Neither creating nor dismantling worlds alone converges on objectivity. But these seemingly antithetical movements of mind participate together in a dialectical evolution.
The limitation of a wired-in reaction pattern is its mechanical rigidity-- its stupidity. A global representation-- an image that is monitored by subsystems capable of variable responses-- is a synthesis upon which further analysis can be performed. Paradoxically, the greater flexibility it affords depends on the gap it creates between image and action, leaving indeterminate the basis for behavior implicit in the image. At the extreme, one would see the world dispassionately and have no response to it. Obviously, to be viable for an organism, detachment must be relative. The advantage of an image of the world is that it distances reaction, freeing it up to be more versatile and objective, but this is in fact a matter of reconnecting action to some higher domain or in some more effective way. Otherwise we are left with an organism that has no priorities, and is paralysed in its indifference. This problem appears in Eastern philosophy in the concept of Nirvana. When one frees oneself from all that has form and limit, being simply consumed in the Absolute, one leaves the cycle of existence never to return. The outer cosmic parallel is the collapse of the whole universe back into the dimensionless state of void before the Big Bang, as though the ultimate purpose of existence were simply to undo itself.
The strategy of the evolution of mind is toward an increasingly looser relationship to the axioms of organic existence. But this relative freedom has evolved only because it serves all the better the purposes of the organism in the game of survival. The effective general strategy for survival lies in the ability to transcend or override any particular algorithm. This freedom has its dangers. There is a price to pay, not only in the overhead of complexity, but in the very laxness which is its essence. With our relatively free will, and enormous capabilities for transforming the environment, we humans are free to play havoc with the natural support for our very existence. From an evolutionary point of view, this freedom to play God exists only for the purpose of serving the mandate of life on a higher level than we may already recognize. To transcend a truth is to find a larger truth, to open to a greater, more objective reality that is binding on a higher level.
We could say that the evolutionary purpose
of subjective consciousness is to liberate the subject from the object.
This means creating a subject that is utterly free from the dictates of
the projected system of cognitive behaviors that is usually taken to be
the self. The core of this self-- whether considered as the subject's experience
or his cognitive behavior-- is belief or thought mistaken as reality. Before
subjective consciousness, there is only the world, which is the unconscious
projection of such thought and belief. In subjective consciousness, there
is both world and self at odds. After subjective consciousness, there is
no more distinction between world and self. The evolution of complex adaptive
systems proceeds through sensitivity to awareness to self-consciousness.
If the organism has transcended its programs once in creating awareness,
twice in creating subjective consciousness, perhaps a third movement toward
objectivity lies in abandoning the subject/object duality of subjective
consciousness. Having played its role, perhaps the separate self with its
imagined freedoms will ultimately be discarded as an expedient that has
outlived its usefulness in the evolutionary quest for objectivity.
Part Three: CONTENT AND FORM
20. Analog and Digital
Whatever is "out there" in the wild of the world-in-itself must be tamed by mind in order to be perceived at all. What appears in experience is not wilderness but something domesticated by mind. The nature of the partnership between world and mind can be elucidated through an exploration of the concepts of analog and digital.
An analog domain must be digitized in order to read it-- for it have significance which can be acted upon. A mercury thermometer, for instance, must be calibrated into units, which give a measurable meaning to the continuous level of the mercury. A thermometer without markings, like a clock without hands, is a perfect analogue of the temperature, but can only roughly and intuitively be interpreted. It tells us only "more or less" the temperature. A digital scale, on the other hand, tells us only "either/or": either the temperature is x or it is not. (If it is not x, the closest to x that it can be is either x+1 or x-1, where x is an integer). The digital is divided into discrete units. It is precise-by-definition, but is accurate only to the limit of definition. The analog is undivided and ambiguous until read by means of a digital scale imposed upon it. It is precise-in-fact, since it maps a function perfectly, but is uninterpretable since it cannot be read.
An analog domain is concrete and infinitely dense if assumed to exist at all mathematical points (while strictly speaking it is defined at no point). A digital domain is defined only at specific points, which are the boundaries of undefined gaps within it. These gaps, upon closer examination, may be considered analog domains in their own right. The space between markings on a thermometer, for example, can only be estimated until a finer set of markings is applied to it in turn. An analog domain is a territory, while a digital domain is a map-like grid employed for the purpose of relative comparison. The analog is implicit content. The digital is formal, explicit, contentless. The analog is Nature, the thing-in-itself; the digital is artifact, measure and idea imposed upon the world.
A digital process involves binary decisions. Through a series of cuts in some ensemble of possibilities, alternatives are systematically discarded until but one remains. A digital process is implied whenever there is a mandate to decide, to choose, to discriminate, to reach a state of certainty which rests upon the elimination of alternatives.
Since action must have a basis in certainty, the relationship of animals to their environment involves binary processes. A plant can draw from the soil and air what it needs just as it needs it, on a continuous basis. It has no possibility and no need to act. While it is true that grazing animals can browse as they require, they enjoy the possibility as well of moving to another location when a food supply is depleted, or of fleeing when threatened by a predator. Hunter and hunted alike are obligated to discrete actions requiring decisions. Relations within the organism may be largely analog, but relations with the world have inevitable digital aspects, because the creature is itself a unit. Information concerning the world must be organized to facilitate choices required by the mandate to act in the interest of survival.
The concept of information is technically defined as the number of binary decisions required to reach a state of certainty-- to completely specify a unique alternative out of many. But the amount of information presented by a situation depends on how the situation is digitized. A day, for instance, can be divided in two (into a.m. and p.m.), into hours, minutes, seconds, etc. Only one bit of information (i.e. binary decision) is needed to specify the time of day if all that matters is whether it is morning or afternoon. More information is required to pinpoint the time more exactly. If time can be indefinitely divided, the amount of information required for infinite precision would be infinite. In practice, there is a tradeoff between speed and accuracy.
Digital processes involve a reduction, or "chunking", of information. At any moment, a creature (or other system that depends on making choices) must reduce the plurality of options to a manageable set-- ultimately to one. There are an infinite number of options that Hamlet could have pondered besides whether or not to be: whether to eat or shave, take up mathematics, change his name, speak in tongues, invent a character named Shakespeare, etc. All these choices were set aside in order to formulate what he considered the pressing matter.
Information must be discarded in a cognitive system; things which are different in detail must be treated as the same. In order that choices can be made between broad categories, irrelevant details ignored, cognitive processes bracket together masses of information, thus reducing the information load on the organism. In this way, we recognize the half-dozen colors of the rainbow out of the continuum of visible wavelengths, sort out domestic plants from a background of weeds, find people likeable or dislikeable.
What is gained through this chunking is a presentation of simplified alternatives with which the decision maker can cope. What is lost is knowledge of the finer points-- as well as knowledge of the decision-making process itself. An election, for instance, passes through several stages of chunking in which the candidates or issues are pre-selected. The electorate as a whole does not participate in this process, but decides only among the final edited choices.
Cognitive processes in general involve decision making among a pre-defined set of choices or categories which are accepted as given. This given then appears as an analog domain, concrete and real, an inherent part of the world rather than a prior pre-processing stage of discrimination. The decision maker recognizes the intentionality of participation in the conscious decision , but not that of the prior decisions that went into defining the perceived alternatives. The political issues on the ballot simply appear as the issues. We may be aware of choosing according to our tastes, but are rarely aware of how and why we organize experience into the categories these tastes represent. A man may desire a beautiful woman without understanding the meaning to him of beauty.
As we have seen, the cognition of any system (including possible intelligent machines) is intentional. A cognitive domain is a schema projected upon the world-in-itself by an intentional agent. A true analog domain has no schema projected upon it, is not calibrated, chunked, categorized, digitized. But if no scale is imposed upon it, it cannot be read or interpreted. It would fall outside any possible cognitive process, and so could not be experienced at all. It would be nothing other than the inscrutable world-in-itself. There is therefore a problem of cognitive domains inherent in the concept of the analog, when conceived as an accessible domain. The analog is actually a product of intentional definition-- a digitation carried out to an indefinite fineness-- but recycled as the aboriginal domain upon which cognitive operations are performed.
Applied to perceptual domains, the term 'analog' denotes nothing substantial or fixed, but a relationship. There can be no true analog domain in the perceptual process, but only domains which are already chunked and read on differing scales, so that one may appear continuous and dense in comparison to another. In an absolute sense, information is necessarily digital, just as perception is necessarily cognitive. If information is binary choice, then the alternatives chosen from must already have been defined as discrete possibilities.
Since analog and digital are relative to scale, there is an interplay of these aspects in any system. In particular, it is possible to represent an analog domain digitally to any desired approximation. A TV screen, for instance, gives a digitized representation of an (analog) optical image. The screen could be made up of more or less pictels, yielding a finer or cruder approximation. By the same token, a digital computer can simulate analog processes as closely as desired.
A nervous system involves a complex interplay of stages of information processing. It is presented initially with an analog display-- for example, an image on the retina. (It could be argued, because of the quantum nature of light, that the optical image is ultimately digital). This image is digitized by the mosaic of the receptors. These, however, do not discharge in a simple digital mode like micro-switches, but with analog aspects, like sending water waves down a canal. Overall patterns are conserved to some extent as analogues of each other in successive stages of processing, while chunking at each stage must be performed on domains that are relatively continuous. At the level of the organism as a whole, the creature makes grossly binary choices, but these rely on a global representation of the environment it inhabits. Its perceptual system begins and ends as an analogue of the world. In between, the system overall is intentional, hence digital.
A clock with hands is an analog device with a digitized scale. If the face of the clock indicates hours only, there cannot be agreement about the time to the minute, since the position of the minute hand must be estimated by a judgment call. With a digital clock no estimation is called for, or even possible, since a digital clock displays no visible analogue of the passage of time on which a judgment call can be made. From a digital clock that indicates only hours, we can but guess what time it "is" between hours-- and this through a subjective sense of time provided by us, not by the clock. With such a clock, the entire duration of time between 3 o'clock and 4 o'clock is defined to be 3 o'clock. It is either precisely 3 o'clock or it is not 3 o'clock at all-- there is nothing in between. In one sense, a digital readout eliminates uncertainty. But since we suspect that time continues to pass during that hour, in another sense digitation increases uncertainty. If we had no analogic notion of time independent of our digital definition, we would always know exactly what time it is by our digital clock. There would simply exist no time between the defined graduations. But if we believe that digital time is merely a convention, and that all the while a real time is continually passing, then we must view digital time as inexact in principle. Uncertainty is relative to the possibility of a finer-grained cognitive domain.
The analog/digital distinction parallels that between cause and intention. The causal world of physics appears to us as an analog domain. Nature may be unfathomably rich, or its infinite complexity may be merely an appearance based on limited experience. While we make a distinction between natural and artificial systems, is it conceivable that there are no natural systems-- that what we call Nature is intentional, digital, artificial and limited (even if infinite), a product of our definitions? If a bottom could be found to the complexity of Nature (e.g. truly elementary particles), would this be evidence that the universe is an intentional construct-- a play whose script is the laws of Nature, whose characters are sparsely-defined and therefore fictional? What are we to make, ultimately, of the quantum behavior of matter and energy (and perhaps of space and time)? Is it a property of the world or of our ways of looking?
The advantage of digital communication is that a message can be repeated indefinitely without accumulating error. Its draw-back is the initial built-in error due to chunking. To put this another way, the advantage of digitation is that only what is intended is transmitted. But this is also its disadvantage, because in one situation some information is gladly discarded as noise, while in another the same lost information may represent a regrettable insensitivity. Digital processes chunk information in order to minimize the complexity and uncertainty of the situation. The stress load of response is reduced by streamlining the representation of the world. But in the long run the stress load may be increased if the oversimplified map corresponds too poorly to the territory.
An analogic mode of response may be adequate in equilibrium situations, when there is unlimited time to adjust perfectly to changes in a basically stable environment. In pre-literate societies, for example, cultural knowledge is global and ubiquitous; everyone is a competent and relatively interchangeable member of the collective. But in crises-- or in rapidly changing societies, such as our own, which are virtually in perpetual crisis-- the analogic mode of thought cannot deal with the flux of information. Cultural knowledge must be specialized, chunked, processed in hierarchies. Specialized experts are needed to deal competently with increasingly delineated areas. The rest of us must be content with cliches, with highly simplified popularizations of the experts' models. This poses a problem for democracies in the modern world, which are supposedly directed by the will of the people rather than technocratic elites.
21. The Propositional Nature of Thought
A proposition is an assertion, a statement; but more broadly, it is any intentional connection. While a statement asserts a fact, the concept of proposition (here proposed) more generally includes assertions which are non-verbal-- for instance, acts of cognition. Thus "sugar tastes good" is a proposition whether we mean a statement in language, a thought, or the pre-verbal neuro-chemical response to certain soluble crystalline carbohydrates. A proposition is digital because it asserts a judgment or decision-- which is essentially binary (being either true or false)-- if only to assign something to a category.
Propositions are intentional because they are always proposed by an agent with purposes of its own. Propositions about structure, for instance, may reflect the interests and mentation of the agent proposing the parts involved.
The function of dualistic or digital thinking is to facilitate decisive judgment, to promote a clear-cut unification behind action. Its disadvantage is that it leads to an artificial simplicity unable to model the complexity of the real world. A proposition not only proposes the fact which it asserts, but also disposes of the alternative facts it ignores. This, of course, is its job. But there are situations in which it might be desirable to keep access to discarded information. There is always a complement or shadow cast by what has been defined into being. There is an antithesis to every thesis. Each proposition leaves out something which could nevertheless have a real and perilous influence over us.
Digitalness is a basic quality of the mental-- that is, of intentionally defined constructs: something either exists or does not, either falls into a given category or does not, is either true or false. The physical, however, is basically analog (at least on the macroscopic scale) in the sense that nothing is truly either/or, but always in between. A proposition maximizes certainty if we believe it can only be true or false. However, like the digital clock, thinking can create uncertainty if we believe the situation can be perceived more finely or be qualified by other relevant information.
Intentional constructs are indeterminate, in the sense that it is pointless to ask how many times Juliet sneezed in the year before she met Romeo, because such details are not included in Shakespeare's script. Juliet, being an intentional creation rather than a real person, is sparsely defined. If she ever sneezes at all, it is only at the times indicated in the play. If she seems to come to life for us as more than a cardboard character or a mere outline, it is because her author, and the skilled actresses who render her part, have sensitively exploited the ways in which the audience fills in her silhouette with their own feelings and imagination.
Explanation plays a similar interpretive role in science. A mathematical theory is a script for the behavior of matter. It does not of itself promise to make the "characters" come to life as comprehensible in terms of everyday experience. It must be filled in with images and metaphors borrowed from the conceptual repertory of the lay audience-- for example, the model of the atom as a miniature solar system.
A cognitive system has its own properties as a self-contained system of propositions. It rides on the analog world in the way that a drama, with its own sort of reality, rides on the primary reality of material stage, actors and props. This metaphor ultimately fails, however, because within life there is no closing of the fiction with a return to a primary reality-- only in death. In the theatre, the fiction is interpreted in terms of the real experience of actors and audience jointly. In cognition, it is the other way around-- reality is interpreted through the fictions of the mind. Prisoners within the play of life are obliged to project the world of their script into the unknown reality offstage.
Thought, and cognition in general, are partial-- in the dual sense of the word: mind can never grasp the totality of a situation, and what it does grasp by nature expresses its biases. Reality, on the other hand, appears in principle unfathomable, inexhaustible by mind, uncontainable by any formalism. Formal knowledge is a game played according to certain rules, with defined payoffs. The game may serve as a metaphor of reality, but it is not reality itself. The models of science bear a similar relationship to reality as do perceptual models. Like perception, there is always something which thought ignores. The mind has a tendency to deal with the residue that does not fit into its representational matrix as King Procrustes accommodated guests who were too long for his standard bed. Thought likes to derive everything from some basic source of axioms-- be it the Bible, the profit motive, or a scientific paradigm. Justifications then grow elaborate and spurious in the measure that more effort is required to force reality into the preconceived mold. But the remainder that does not fit returns to haunt its creators sooner or later in the ongoing confrontation with reality. It might be personal crisis, or political action by those the established regime has oppressed, or resistance from Nature to technological control.
22. Simulation and Replication
Real systems, as represented in thought, are products of definition, of imposing formal structure on the world-in-itself. Any definition is selective and intentional, like projecting patterns into an inkblot.
Two systems are believed functionally equivalent when they are considered to behave alike in select ways. A set of propositions is abstracted to express the formalism of which they are both examples. They may differ, however, in a potential infinity of details that are treated as irrelevant and indeterminate with regard to the definition of the system supplied by some intentional agent with its purposes.
Science, as an intentional creation, may be a completely formalizable system, but this does not mean that Nature is. That physical processes are rule-governed, and that these rules can be formally expressed in an exhaustive way, are mere assumptions. Physical processes may appear rule-governed for the same reason that they are recognized at all: because they correspond to categories which are intentional creations. Nature may be unfathomable because it is infinitely complex in one or both directions of scale. Alternately, thought itself may be interminable, condemned to essential incompleteness.
It may be an error to regard two natural systems as structurally or functionally identical simply because they are indistinguishable when viewed through formalizing spectacles. It is merely an assumption that structure can be exhaustively specified, and a further assumption that function resides in structure.
These considerations should lead us to regard the concept of modelling with some reserve. Simulation-- which implies only selective functional equivalence-- must be clearly distinguished from replication, which means producing an exact structural copy. If the artificial replication of a natural system is to proceed by formally exhausting the being of the original-- by fully axiomatizing it in some "blueprint"-- then it could in principle be doomed to failure. Reality resists being caged in definitions.
Some simulations may be adequate to their given purposes, while others are not because the models which generate them omit critical aspects. The closeness of the simulation, like the adequacy of the model, is relative.
Information as a technical concept is independent of meaning in the way that a formal system is independent of reality and proof is independent of truth. The concept of information assumes an intentionally defined situation imposed upon a potential infinity of possibilities. Information is defined as the number of binary decisions needed to reduce alternatives to one. This presumes a decision procedure for a finite set of defined alternatives. Information can only be as determinate as the situation. And the concept of information parallels that of proof or derivation of a theorem: each binary decision (bit of information) is analogous to a step in a proof. Each step narrows the margin between premise and conclusion, just as each binary decision reduces the alternatives by half.
Information refers to the order in a system perceivable by any subject. This notion of information, as an absolute, presupposes an objective situation whose structure is fully (and not merely selectively) accountable in some model. It takes for granted a reality beyond any formalization, while tacitly assuming that this reality is the one given in some human cognitive domain.
The same considerations apply to behavior as to structure, function and information. Simulating behavior is not the same as fully replicating it. Formal models, and mechanisms constructed to embody them, capture only aspects of the behavior of natural systems. Behaviorism assumes an organism to be a mechanism and, hence, the embodiment of a formalizable system. Inadvertently, it takes selected aspects of the totality of the creature's activity to represent its behavior. This is rather like assuming that a pitcher for a national baseball team and a machine for pitching practice balls engage in the same "behavior". Just as the action of the machine is a grossly chunked version of the man's, behaviors identified by the laboratory observer are parodies of whatever the creature-in-itself does.
Some philosophers hold that zombies are logically possible: "The very conceivability of a zombie shows that behavior can be explained in terms that neither involve nor imply the existence of experience". (A zombie is defined as the functionally identical equivalent of a conscious person, except that the zombie is not conscious.) I suspect that what is conceived as the zombie is not actually identical to what is conceived as the conscious person. There is a functional difference-- precisely the function known subjectively as consciousness. Perhaps we do not know yet how to fully specify that function as behavior. But this is due to inadequate investigation rather than to the absence of such a function.
The zombie (or "absent qualia" ) argument against functionalism does not work, because it implicitly identifies certain limited aspects of behavior as "function". It depends on mistaking simulation for replication or identity. On the other hand, it could be argued that the functionalist account does not work either for the same reason: the true or complete functioning of an organism cannot be known exhaustively.
If it could be proven that two organisms (or an organism and an artificial system) are exhaustively identical in their functioning, and one of them happens to be conscious, then the other would necessarily also be conscious. The zombie concept tacitly assumes that the zombie is merely a simulation of the conscious person-- or one altered in specific ways that render them not functionally equivalent.
23. Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Life, and Nanotechnology
In 1936 Alan Turing proposed the idea, related to Godel's, that any effective procedure that can be accomplished by human problem solvers can be formalized. Since a machine is an embodiment of a formalism, the procedure can then be duplicated by a machine. Hence the idea of the universal machine-- the computer.
Unlike Godel's theorem, this is held to be only a conjecture that works for a large but indefinite class of procedures. It seems to involve some circularity, in that an "effective procedure" is already a formalism and problem solving already implies a restriction to certain kinds of activities which may be formalized. It may not be true that all human thought and behaviour, including cognition, is formalizable and therefore replicable by a machine. The Turing hypothesis is the cornerstone of artificial intelligence. Ultimately it is the notion that the functioning of a human brain can be understood and abstracted in sufficient detail to be replicated by a computer.
But the grand dreams of classical AI have essentially met with failure, and we should be skeptical in principle about the idea that intelligent behavior can be completely formalized, abstracted out of its embodied context. When a "piece" of behavior (of a machine or of another creature) seems to resemble a human action, implicitly each is being compared to a common formalism, which is the essence of that action as the human mind has identified and abstracted it. One simulates the other because they both embody the same formalism. But one does not thereby replicate the other, whose being has not been exhausted in the formalism. In addition, there is the danger of indulging a pathetic fallacy-- by judging the purposiveness or intelligence of the action in terms of human premises. For an action to be considered genuinely intelligent, it would have to be evaluated in terms of the premises of the intelligent system itself (which, of course, must have such premises of its own!).
An organism is a causally closed system-- in the sense that every normal process within the organism has a cause within the organism itself. In contrast, a machine is causally open, in that changes within it are driven by an outside environment. A machine, like an individual organism, makes waste-products which are not part of it, but in Nature-- that is, the biosphere as a whole-- there is no waste. Everything is recycled.
A computer program can indeed simulate some human mental processes and actions, and the optimism of classical AI theorists was founded on their success at simulating obviously intentional systems like logic. But objectified notions of structure, function and information can mislead us to the conclusion that an information processing system processes the same information as a brain, embodies the same structure, performs the same operations. In some cases this assumption may be justified. These seem to be cases that involve aspects of human intelligence that have already been formalized (like logic) or for which effective procedures have been found.
The limits of simulation hinge on just how much of human (or any) activity and structure can be formalized. We could draw a distinction between the organism's activity as a causal system and as an intentional system. It may be that a natural phenomenon can never be formally exhausted, while certainly an intentional system can be. The behavior of an intentional system may be carried on the richer analog substrate-- for instance, of neural activity-- just as a message is carried on a physical signal. If so, then there is yet some hope for reproduction through formalization and traditional approaches to AI, since the elusive wealth of the analog carrier is essentially irrelevant to the intentional system. But this rests, in any case, on the assumptions that behavior can be treated purely as intentional, and that the intentional system can be correctly identified and exhaustively understood by an outside agent. This is far from certain. There are, of course, other reasons for the failure of traditional AI. For instance, it has become apparent that simulations of the brain based on linear processing are unrealistic or false.
Some critics of AI believe that intentionality is an inherently biological phenomenon. Perhaps what they mean is that it is an inherently embodied phenomenon, a product of natural selection. No artificial system has, as of today, its own intentionality-- no doubt because no artificial system has come close to duplicating the conditions of embodiment which determine the intentionality of organisms. Little effort in this direction has been made in traditional AI, work proceeding instead on the simulation of fragments of behavior.
Developments in the new field of Artificial Life (AL) may circumvent the limitations of formalization and linear processing. If artificial systems can be evolved through circumstances equivalent to natural selection, then the conditions of embodiment could be met, resulting in systems possessing their own intentionality, and hence intelligence. However, by definition, this could not be a process entirely within human control. It could not therefore be used for the purpose of exhaustively producing or replicating a specified organism or structure. Human purposes would have the same relationship to artificial evolution as they do to natural evolution. In other words, the process could be partially controlled through applied selective breeding, as it presently is with natural organisms. Evolution could be guided but not strictly determined.
At present, the conditions of embodiment are being simulated in computers, through programs which simulate both the defining properties of life and the process of natural selection. At this point, these artificial organisms are only simulations, principally because embodiment itself is only simulated. These are virtual, not physical, organisms. The selection rules are arbitrary inventions of programmers, not conditions in the real world, or resulting from a competitive environment of other preternatural self-defining entities. We do not yet have the capacity to construct self-replicating physical machines which could be turned loose to compete with each other (and probably with us!) for survival. But this capability is not far off. Developments in microtechnology may soon render it possible to physically embody the virtual simulations of AL, resulting in true artificial organisms, and a new chapter in the history of the biosphere. Observers of this scene already warn of the inevitability of superintelligent machines and a "singularity"-- a big crunch in the exponentially developing future of technology-- at which a point of no return is reached where technology is no longer within human control. New entities might arise as the principal players in a game with analogous but unknown rules.
From the beginning of time the fact of mortality has rubbed our self-conscious noses in the vulnerabilities of embodied existence. Certainly this has contributed to the desire to control Nature and even to create life. The mechanistic metaphor has proven a powerful instrument of human control. On the other hand, it has added to the injury of mortality a succession of insults to human centrality in the scheme of things. Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Einstein and Freud facilitated major downward revisions of our special human status. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin of our superiority will be driven home, ironically, by the advent of superintelligent artificial organisms. Whatever consciousness is, it will then be finally clear that it is not a uniquely human prerogative. It could turn out that we are not the pinnacle of evolution, but merely an expendable steppingstone toward inconceivable new forms of life.
What are the limits to mechanism as a metaphor of biological reality? Can a living cell, for example, be considered a self-replicating machine? If so, we are faced with the possibility of constructing or evolving microscopic self-replicating machines modelled on living cells. If these little "factories" were controllable from the macro level, they might in their ensemble constitute programmable matter that can reassemble itself into any desired shape and function! They might also become a rogue new form of quasi-life, a new plague dangerously out of human control.
The program of instructions by which the cell reduplicates may indeed be an exhaustible formalism-- since it appears to consist of a finite structure. But can it be assumed that all information governing the process of self-replication is contained strictly in the genetic material within the cell? Even in the case of a computer, by analogy, not all the information is contained in the program. The functioning of a computer is an interaction of software, hardware and human user. Is there not a similar figure-background relationship between DNA and the total environment of the cell, which includes the materials from which the cell constructs a duplicate of itself and chemical instructions in the environment or in the body as a whole? As for multi-celled organisms, the process of cell differentiation remains one of the great mysteries of biology. It may turn out that there is a big difference between an organism-- natural or artificial-- and a machine, however sophisticated, which makes products specified by human intent and under human control. It is misleading to consider a cell a factory, because the principle product of an organism is itself. This is not only because it self-replicates, but because its whole endeavor is to maintain its existence and identity. As it own intentional system, it is only incidentally an instrument of human intention. It is not a tool, except in the way that nature is presently managed for human purposes.
As long as the process of fabrication is understood in the traditional sense, we are on familiar ground. We already know, for instance, that manufactured products are subject to various imperfections, and that industry makes pollution (precisely because natural processes do not conform totally to human intention). Thought is an approximation, and never encompasses the whole of physical process. There can always be an unforeseen and perhaps undesirable by-product, simply because thought is simplistic. But when we assume the perfectability of thought, our footing is precarious-- as though we believed that Nature owes it to us to conform to our ideas. If we wish to make tiny factories that operate in the traditional way as instruments under human control, then we can expect of nanotechnology more or less what we get from present technology-- multiplied incredibly by speed and capacity. But any technology that truly imitates the wisdom of Nature will necessarily be out of human control.
What about the problems of control between levels of scale? How would nanocomputers, controlling microscopic molecular factories, be controlled on the macroscopic level? It is one thing to imagine nano-factories that are self-contained, self-programming, self-modifying and self-evolved just like microbes. Like organisms, these could only be controlled indirectly. It is quite another thing to imagine tiny factories fully programmable from the macro level. How would communication take place? Through radio transmissions, each microscopic factory on a different frequency? Practical difficulties aside, might there be theoretical limits as well? Perhaps it could be argued that such communication between hierarchical levels already exists-- in the human body, for instance. But this is no one-way directive from an external source of intelligence. The cells of the body are not "operated by" the brain, nor does the person enter into conscious communication with them. Rather, the organism is a continuous cycling of influences, through many channels, from bottom up and from top down.
24. Extraterrestrial Intelligence
The intelligence with which we are familiar is limited to specific life forms we know on this planet. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (S.E.T.I.) has been called a "science without a subject", because by definition it is about something which we have not yet encountered (New Age fantasies notwithstanding!). We are looking for our counterparts somewhere else, but do not have an external perspective from which to grasp even what we ourselves are. Perhaps our concept of intelligence is as geocentric as our concepts of culture and biology, in spite of the drive to abstract intelligence from its roots and infrastructure. In other words, our notions about E.T.I. are limited in that we tend to imagine only beings in our image, but also because we lack a general perspective, or theory of intelligence, within which to place that or any other image. In this circumstance speculation cannot advance much further than the science of Aristotle or the medieval scholastics. Yet pondering the "science without a subject"-- even when it seems to be stating the obvious-- helps at least to organise thought about life and intelligence on this planet, and is a step toward that cosmic perspective.
Scientific research leans toward tangible pursuits. S.E.T.I. concentrates on the earthbound detection of intelligent signals from deep space. Exobiology, on the other hand, consists virtually of the search for organic chemistry within our solar system, particularly on Mars. A huge gap remains between these domains for want of an experimental, observational, or even theoretical basis. And that is the entirely speculative study of what possible alternative forms of intelligence could exist, and their alternative evolutionary histories. Here are some rudimentary thoughts about what is admittedly the realm of science fiction.
To begin with the obvious, the human form and intelligence has evolved, and is maintained, as part of a biosphere. This has several implications. First, it is the fortuitous result of a long and vulnerable evolutionary history. This is relevant to the last factor in the "Drake Equation" for estimating the number of detectable civilizations. If technological civilization is inherently inimical to the biosphere that maintains it, it could only be short-lived. The advanced civilizations of sci-fi imagination would have to have resolved basic dilemmas currently facing us regarding their impact on the biosphere. (Hence the importance of the question the character Ellie poses in Carl Sagan's Contact: "How did you do it?" ) One extreme dilemma is the possibility of organic life being entirely or partially supplanted by competing and evolving artificial life forms, in which case a largely unpredictable ecology-- perhaps more robust than organic life-- would replace the present biosphere. It would have its own rules, but intelligence within it would no doubt face some of these considerations. For instance, it would also obviously have to be self-sustaining, though perhaps not over such extended time scales as organic life has required-- if it evolved at a much faster rate.
Second, because evolutionary advancement means rising in trophic pyramids, an advanced life form will probably, like us, constitute a relatively minor part-- at least in terms of biomass-- of a very large self-sustaining ecological system. This is what renders unrealistic the barren landscape, populated only by intelligent humanoids, depicted in Bradbury'sThe Martian Chronicles). As an organism in its own right, the biosphere has followed its own evolutionary parameters, in terms of which ascendancy toward the human form is irrelevant, and could only be permitted as the exception and never the rule. The great mass of life must remain lowly precisely to support the higher forms. This parallels the fact that life does not exist except in isolated localities within vast reaches of a universe that is on the whole empty.
What does it mean to be at the peak of a trophic pyramid or food chain? Above all, it means playing by the prevailing rules of the biosphere-- the "game of life". This means that organic intelligence is highly conditional. We are the genetic heritage of the biosphere itself. We are here as consciousness by virtue of our programming as life, standing on the shoulders of a vast network of present and past forms. The nature of our intelligence is conditioned, if not strictly determined, by our participation in that game. This heritage is animal. We exist as bodies, as flesh that lives by consuming other flesh. Our minds themselves are made of flesh and we perceive and think with the intelligence of flesh. Only by recognizing the embodied (and hence parochial) nature of our own intelligence will we succeed in creating a general concept of intelligence capable of embracing the differing constraints upon alternative embodiments and varying levels of freedom from those constraints.
Conditionality means living with priorities, the rules governing the body in the game of survival. The mind, as an extension of the body, has internalized these conditions for its existence as values -- good, bad, pain, pleasure, etc. A stone has a more unconditional existence than an animal because the conditions required for its existence are less stringent, simpler and fewer. It has no use for values. We can only speak of values, preferences and the qualities of experience where a being has internalized the conditions for its existence in order to be able to act on the environment so as to bring those conditions about .
However, conditional existence is a broader notion than physical embodiment. There could be forms of existence that are non-physical yet conditional. This would imply a basis for an intentional structure, as it does for organisms, reflecting structure in the worlds in which they exist, and implying mind-- thought, perception, value, etc. The "right kind of intentionality" presupposes a conditional if not physically-embodied mind. Physical embodiment would guarantee conditionality, provided it is true that it can only arise through what I have been calling a game of survival. But conditionality is the more general concept, and does not in itself guarantee embodiment.
To be in our position means to inhabit a physical universe, as a product--at least initially-- of natural selection. We are not talking about beings from "other dimensions" but about possible consciousness which, like ours, has evolved within the physical infrastructure of a game of life-- even if not based on the same or any organic chemistry. The emphasis here is upon the evolution through a game tree-- i.e. through some series of lawful interactions in the physical world, of the nature of a proof in a formal system whose elements happen to be physical. Such life-- whether satisfying definitions of earth biology or not-- would have a history and a logical development analogous, if dissimilar, to our own. This would include evolution of the species form through natural selection operating upon individual units that reproduce and disappear, making space for new individuals. Note that death of the individual is a necessary feature of genetic recombination-- without which advanced evolution seems impossible. Though mortality is the platform for the evolution of advanced intelligence, such intelligence becomes capable of addressing it as an issue, and perhaps surmounting it.
But is evolution by natural selection a universal precondition for life, or is it merely a terrestrial fact (or something in between)? In other words, can there be a basis for the self-elaborating intentionality of a complex adaptive system other than its participation in a game of survival? Must it be self-reproducing-- which implies generations and death-- and part of a chain of being-- which implies competing with, exploiting and consuming other creatures? Perhaps there are unknown mechanisms through which a self-maintaining system could evolve merely through its process of self-definition. Perhaps a cognitive system could self-organize in some way that did not involve survival of competing genes, nor even the existence of multiple individuals. After all, the chemical elements and compounds we are familiar with evolved through a non-biological process of self-organization. At the other end of the scale, cultural evolution is only partly a matter of selective pressures. There are individual conscious creations upon which selection acts to appropriate them as part of the collective expression. Could a self-organizing principle act upon a system, bringing it without natural selection to a state in which it can consciously act upon itself? (Perhaps life as a whole could be viewed as such a system, the existence of individuals and even species being irrelevant on that scale-- just the microscopic texture of the single multicelled organism. There would be no "environment" for such a system-- nothing which was not part of itself).
To be in our position also means to be self-reflective. We must assume this also about those with whom we wish to communicate. Reflexive consciousness (the awareness of awareness) is the condition for transcendence of the particularities of embodied life. If this is a function of complexity, then it is reasonable to assume that any race capable of physical space travel or sending physical signals into space will be reflexively self-conscious (even if they happen to be "artificial"). If so, then we can assume they will have similarly confronted issues of mortality, ethics, individual vs. collective, and transcendence of the body and its programming. They will have a philosophy and a "spiritual life", and will be similarly to some degree befuddled by contradictions and regressive tendencies within a consciousness at once transcendent but remaining to some extent conditioned by the path of their evolution. They will experience the suffering of (bodily) existence, and will manifest inconsistencies in their behaviour associated with the split between embodied programming and reflexive consciousness. (In short, they will be "human"!) The question is to what extent they will have resolved these dilemmas.
In order to produce a technological civilization capable of space travel, they will necessarily possess some appropriate way of manipulating the environment. For humans it is the hand, in conjunction with eyes that focus and an upright posture that frees the hand, but could be some alternative arrangement in other forms. The intelligence of cetaceans, for example, could not manifest as technology because of their lack of appropriate organs.
An advanced culture, with a body of technological knowledge, requires the cumulative effort of many individuals over time. This implies communication and information storage, i.e. "language". Storage would not necessarily have to be external to the memory of the individual, especially if individuals somehow had super memory capacity and immediate access to each other's knowledge. Of course, language, reflexive consciousness and (non-material) culture is possible without a technological orientation. Again, the cetaceans may be a case in point, with their elaborate communication skills. Yet, if signals are to be sent across space, some means of directing electromagnetic energy seems to be implied. If a species communicated using electromagnetic signals (rather than sound), perhaps some natural means of amplification could be evolve (without externally fabricated amplification devices).
The general considerations of biologists Maturana and Varela would apply to all cognitive systems satisfying their definition as "a system whose organization defines a domain of interactions in which it can act with relevance to the maintenance of itself" . Hence, an alien cognitive system would, like all participants in the game of life, have an input of sensory surfaces and an output of effectors. The action of the system would be to maintain itself, through maintaining its inputs within certain bounds by means of its output. From the point of view of an observer, the question of a real world, upon which the system acts, does not enter. The action is effectively upon its own internal states, while the world is a concept in the cognitive domain of the observer. However, since our experience is of a real external world, we can only imagine that an alien mind would also project its own cognitive domain as "real". It might have proceeded, in addition, far beyond this "natural" relationship to experience.
Cognitive domains can be ordered in terms of their comprehensive objectivity. A creature is superior which has a more adequate model of the world. It is difficult to formulate a concept of objectivity without reference to reality-- to "objects". Otherwise, all that can be said is that a cognitive system either works or doesn't work. (If a species succeeds in maintaining itself, then by definition its model of reality works!) Intuitively, we have a concept of intelligence that allows us to rank other creatures, in the terms of our own cognitive domain, on a scale of which we mark the definable upper limit. Would not the situation be parallel for an alien consciousness we would recognize as superior, except that the upper limit for it would fall within its (higher, and for us perhaps inconceivable) cognitive domain? It would be able to measure our limitations within its superior and more objective model, much as we are able to assess the intelligence of animals. We could learn from its extended cognitive domain, thereby expanding our own, provided it is not too far removed from ours.
What are the imaginable extensions of objectivity beyond our present cognitive domain? Objectivity must be the perception of reality itself, independent of the "noise" of the channel or medium of perception. For humans, the medium of perception is the body and its personality-- supported from below by the entire genetic heritage of the game of life, and from above by the entire cultural edifice which is its extension. Objectivity therefore means freedom from the constraints and programming of this entire structure: nature/body/mind/culture.
Human culture and thought aim to transcend the limits of embodiment and individual mind. Thought wants to extend itself beyond the body's localization in space and time, beyond the isolations of culture, of species, of life itself, and even beyond the limits of physical law. Thought wants to survive the demise of the body, the passing of civilizations and even the end of the universe. If this universe is but a cycle among others, mind can conceive its own continuity even beyond the confines of this cycle.
There is a movement toward transcendence in western science and philosophy as there is in the highest spiritual traditions. Both seek universal and eternal principles, ultimate causes, unification of concepts, simplicity of expression, generalization, independence from relative conditional experience. One seeks its basis in the subject as the ultimate principle, the other in the external object. One creates a transcendent spiritual realm beyond phenomena, the other a realm of mathematically expressible law which stands above and beyond phenomena. If there is a direction to the evolution of consciousness, it is toward transcendence of physical limitations.
In our case this goal has been supported by biological evolution long enough for conscious direction to be assumed. We might then expect advanced alien life forms to have taken charge of their destiny in some measure, and in some way to have transcended individual embodiment while retaining the evolutionary advantage of individual diversity. We might also expect a transcendence of the entire survival-oriented ethos of embodiment and biological programming. There would be resolution of the general problem of individual embodiment-- that is, of how to "ride" the material world in a way compatible with the goal of freedom, and also to have achieved a state of complete integration of the individual unit of consciousness within the collective mind. There might even be the ability to assume and change material form at will, and to interact with matter in general from a position essentially detached from material existence. This implies an objective and benevolent consciousness, with an absence of conflict and ego based on competition among bodies. These are the ideals of human spirituality, and perhaps they are also the goal of evolution, if not the reality of biological life. Spiritual ideas could be regarded as premonitions of the future of bio-technical evolution. (Indeed, in the West there is a close association between science fiction and esoteric spiritual teachings which concern themselves with the conscious evolution of humanity). Cultural evolution is built on the platform of biological evolution. In turn, a consciously directed technological evolution could be built upon the platform of culture. This could take many forms, including genetic engineering and artificial life.
The premises of science and technology-- and of AI and AL in particular-- resemble those of spiritual idealism: namely, freedom from the vulnerabilities and particulars of embodiment. In both cases, identity is viewed as independent of infrastructure. Liberation from biological programming-- from identification with the body and the parochial quality of thought which is part and parcel of embodiment-- is the ideal of spiritual man. The logical consequence of this transcendence is the archetype of objective loving kindness touchingly portrayed in the film Contact.. No doubt we have imaginatively projected this ideal, first onto a fatherly God, and more recently onto superior alien beings. But perhaps it is also our own real destiny and that of life throughout the universe.
Consciousness as a product of the game of life owes its allegiance not to truth but to survival of the species and its representative embodiments. Nevertheless, human cognition has gone beyond this to conceive the possibility of reality transcendent and independent of human cognition, and this is the meaning of objectivity. We might expect the same and more from a superior consciousness, which would be yet more independent of its own cognitive mechanisms, more in allegiance to truth, less divided in its being. If there is a universal Truth, then evolutionary advancement throughout the universe must converge upon it.
What about the possibility of a race with superior technology but without superior moral development? How far can technology outstrip other aspects of evolution, particularly the movement toward objectivity? Our concerns about this are naturally inspired by our own situation, for which the jury is still out. What trends can we detect in recent human history, that might shed tentative light on this question?
Because of population expansion, and secondarily because of technology, there has been increasing contact between tribes of humans and gradual effacement of boundaries. Though not a peaceful process, it may yet be one which implies peace, as we move toward the "global village". As the world comes more and more under the hegemony of Western (urban) civilization, there is a unity emerging through shared cultural images, in spite of the many problems this entrains-- such as overcrowding, pollution, increasing competition for dwindling resources, and the destruction of traditional values. There is therefore a natural drift toward the cooperative values and legal civil authority necessary for a planetary community. There is the possibility for the successful negotiation of this very dangerous transitional phase. The Cold War was a symbol of deep inner polarization between cooperative and individualistic values. It's end is a hopeful sign of integration, and the collapse of the heroic Soviet experiment may signify a major lesson: that the way toward resolving such contradiction is more gradual, natural, and "bottom-up".
Two major questions about corporate oligarchy as the future world government: how will wealth be distributed, and how will it address damage to the biosphere? These are quantitative and qualitative aspects of the same issue: how good will life be for humanity as a whole, not to mention other species? They relate to the collective vision of humankind and those in power, in particular. In the evolutionary terms of this discussion, the question is whether such vision will be adequate to the situation-- sufficiently objective-- or whether it will remain tribal, small-minded, self-serving, parochial. The opinion of celebrated zoologist Desmond Morris is pessimistic, based on long experience with the ingroup behaviour of primates and with animals in captivity (which urban humans essentially are).
Personally, I believe we are learning, like
young children or adolescents, that we are not free to do just as we please,
and that our situation is guided by natually imposed limits on how far
out of kilter things can get. If there exists a workable balance between
technology and Nature-- between the needs of billions of humans and the
needs of the biosphere-- I believe we will stumble upon it through trial
and error, if not too late. The question, from the point of view of this
discussion, is whether this balance allows for the indefinite advancement
of technology-- into space travel, colonization, contact with other worlds,
etc.. And if so, how wide is the margin of tolerance between trial and
error? Does it permit, for instance, unbridled species-specific rapaciousness
carried into space? The popular sci-fi imagination pictures extremes of
possibility: the wise and benign aliens of Close Encounters and the malicious
aliens of Independence Day. Personally, I favor the former as the long-term
scenario, and view the latter as part of the immature ways of childhood
to be left behind, a projection of our present fears. The lesson of paleontology
is that nothing is guaranteed.
Part Four: SUBJECT AND OBJECT
25. A Conscious Relationship to Experience
A conscious relationship to experience is one in which one is aware of the contents of consciousness not as reality but as experience. To be aware of contents as such (as object-- whether in the world or in the mind) implies a subject/object relationship. In being aware of the object per se one is simultaneously aware of one's creative awareness as subject and the indeterminate presence of the object. In an unconscious-- or pre-subjective-- relationship to experience, there is awareness of the object alone, but not as an object. Rather, there is total absorption in whatever appears to be happening, without awareness of having experience at all.
In the naive pre-subjective consciousness, the subject does not exist, but only the world. That is, everything contained in what we subjectives call the mind is projected as "objectively" existing in the external world. (Not the physical world as we sophisticates conceive it, but the magical world of what we would call objectified psychic forces, in which subject and object are merged without distinction. The concept of the external physical world of modern science is a product of the subjective era, along with the concepts of psychology). As the subject comes further into being, so does the object. The world becomes more objective in our view as we become more consciously subjective-- not in the sense of irrational or narcissistic, but in claiming responsibility for experience. As the subject evolves, more of the cognitive apparatus becomes an object of awareness; less of it is projected into the world as "reality". This means, paradoxically, that the subject moves further interior to experience, which is perceived more as an object with which it is no longer unconsciously identified.
In subjective consciousness, the relationship of the subject to objects-of-experience is one of relative but increasing freedom. The subject, in pre-subjective consciousness, does not know itself to exist, and so has no authority within the organism. There is no power to consciously choose a course of action because there is no self to choose it. The subject is totally identified with the organism's programming, which it cannot distinguish from the reality of the world. The point of view of the subject is simply that of the organism-- completely determined and reactive. But a transformation begins in subjective consciousness, in which the point of view of the subject is increasingly disengaged from that of the organism. The subject is less obliged to see and respond to the world through the body's values and the mind's conditioning, and more able simply to see the world for what it is and to see the programming of the organism for what it is. The subject becomes cognizant of its situation at the epistemic center of a "complex adaptive system" which is a player in the game of life, a survival machine. With this recognition comes some choice of whether, how, and when to identify with the organism.
The evolving subject occupies an increasingly transcendent and logically superior position. It is potentially free from its identification with the organism and with all contents of mind. What invests experience with urgency is the sense of reality associated with it. If that is discovered to be merely a program of the organism, there is little reason to be compelled by it other than the desire to survive, which is also but a program of the organism. Experience loses its automatic import and action becomes a voluntary play of gratuitous forms. The world is seen to be an improvised drama, not meaningless but without fixed substance.
The ultimate implication of subjective consciousness is that the subject is freed even from its own reality. The subject realizes it is nothing but a receding and effervescent perspective on a shadow show. Even its own drive toward subjective freedom, of increasing independence and power, is seen as part of the evolving machinery of the organism hosting it-- another ephemeral object with which it can decline to identify.
On the robbing of consciousness of its intrinsic qualities through reductionism, a contemporary philosopher writes:
"No one ever considered his own terrible pain or his deepest worry and concluded that they were just Turing machine states or that they could be entirely defined in terms of their causes and effects or that attributing such states to themselves was just a matter of taking a certain stance toward themselves".
But this is precisely the spiritual accomplishment of subjective consciousness! The Buddha and thousands of other aspirants to enlightenment have claimed that suffering is a matter of cause and effect and that release from suffering is a matter of the stance we take in regard to experience. They teach that "reality" and "self" are alike inherently empty, and that our deeply identified states are the effects of thought or belief-- that is, Turing machine states!
Mind can appeal only to objects of consciousness-- things apparently outside itself (whether reality, logic, or even emotion). It must have reason or just cause-- that is, justification analogous to cause. Therefore the mind's hope for change remains tied to the contents of experience. It waits upon a change in experience in order to shift its priorities, leading to a change in behavior. Usually one does not strictly decide to behave (or think) differently, rather expecting to have a course of action dictated by experience, which usually means by something in the world. The mind depends upon experience to know what to do, looks to "reality" constantly, and in fact is addicted to it.
This leads to the perverse effect of experience being repeated in the misguided belief in it as oracle. But then, since it is worshipped, experience does not change, except to become exaggerated. The dependency upon experience cannot be broken, so long as one waits upon it to change first. New experiences may dictate new behavior, but the dependency continues. The cycle can be broken only by intention, with a change in experience following (or not-- it is irrelevant!) One must choose to change the relationship to experience rather than expecting the content to change. Apparent choice is between experiences, while the deeper choice is at another level. Apparent choice is between the wants of the ego, but the real choice is whether to follow ego or surrender ego. Whether to pursue being someone or to let go of being anyone. Ego consciousness is a floating cursor that follows whatever object appears "out there". The real alternative is to abide at center.
The life cycle and the daily cycle present us with these levels of choice and take us through the range of states from overidentification to the dissolution of all ties in death. We suffer many little deaths through loss and frustration, and then the big one. The normal course is to experience this cycle in time. But the possibility afforded us in the conscious relationship to experience is to face death outside of time. Thus we have the opportunity to be fluid in embracing change, through internalizing as logical relationships those we normally experience as causally imposed. Even in the midst of health and plenty, we can know-- for instance, at the moment of apparent loss-- the wisdom of letting go, since this is based on knowing the state of non-identification before loss or death. We step out of time and causal circumstance, out of limited thought and purpose identified with the premises of life, and into a timeless relationship with the whole cycle, embracing the dramatic urgencies of life within the context of the eternal ocean of Being in which all appearances arise and fall. In a conscious relationship to experience, we know ourselves to be both the thrill of the surf and the silence of the deep. We recognize this embodied and identified experience as a momentary unfolding of the stillness on either side of the great phase transitions of life. Dwelling in this awareness beyond time, recognizing we are temporarily on loan to a life that is beyond our control, we can be ready to go or to let go at a moment's notice. Herein lies freedom.
26. The Subject Is No Object.
Experience is the view, so to speak, within a cognitive domain, from the perspective of the subject. This viewpoint is literally a dimensionless point, interior to experience and at its center. The pure subject is nothing other than this point. It is therefore not an object of any sort, nor any element of the panorama of experience. Subject and object are totally disjunct. The object is seen; the subject is seer. While in truth the subject never experiences itself, yet it may come to mistake some portion of its experience of the world for itself.
In subjective consciousness there is a shift, so that the cognitive domain is no longer naively interpreted as the world, but is seen as an inner view of the workings of the cognitive system. The subjectively conscious mind recognizes all experience to be a product of both world and self. But this "self" is implicitly the cognitive system-- part of the organism. It is not the pure subject, which remains interior to all objects of consciousness, the center of all experience whether of self or of world. Identifying the subjective content of experience as oneself is an important evolutionary step. But from an absolute point of view no content of experience is the self as pure subject.
As motor agent, the subject is not the body which performs actions, nor the thoughts or feelings which animate them. As experiential witness, it is not the brain nor any entity such as the soul. And since it is a dimensionless point, there is nothing but location in space and time to distinguish one subject from another, except through the intentional act of identification with a particular cognitive system. Therefore, in an absolute sense there is not a plurality of subjects, but qualitatively merely one. There is but one agent and one witness, manifest in all the apparently separate forms of individual organisms. This truth, of the unity of subjects, runs parallel to the unity of the cosmos as one undivided object or process.
What is the role of this subject in the behavior of a cognitive system? Strictly speaking the subject remains an uninvolved witness. It does not enter into decision making except the meta-decisions of whether to allow the machinery of decision making to proceed, whether to identify, whether to pay attention, etc. Its decisions concern the relationship to experience rather than to its specific contents. To identify is to abdicate the responsibility of the witness to monitor the cognitive process. We have described identification as adopting the viewpoint of a playing piece within a game. The player as subject is always free to take the game seriously or not. The player is the subject in its role as free agent, as distinguished from observer. The subject as player remains unidentified with its actions, just as the subject as cognitive witness is unidentified with its perceptions. In the game, indeed, actions are not the player's but those of the game itself! The free player embraces the game as a format for play, but not to the extent of forgetting its own freedom, nor that the game is only a game. At this level, all limitation is a voluntary acceptance of the world of the game.
By definition, the subject stands always on the opposite side, of the arrow (or lens) of mind, from objects. The subject is not any object of consciousness, but is consciousness itself. Not itself a thing, it is a point of view, never what is seen from that point of view. We could think it is a person or agent pointing, but this begins to make the subject an object of thought, even a body, which it is not. Since awareness can always point to any pointer, the subject is always interior to what can be pointed to.
The arrow of awareness points through the lens of mind, which has its own focussing and distorting properties and is normally perceived as transparent-- that is, not perceived at all. It is possible to look at the lens of mind-- for it to be an object of awareness or thought-- provided we understand that what we think we are seeing as the lens is itself a product of the lens, a mere image. In other words, the lens can be known only through inference from its distorting effects upon experience. It is better regarded as a theoretical construct rather than a literal object of perception. (We are speaking not of the brain, which is a physical object, but of the mind, which is not). An analogy might be the black hole which acts as a gravitational lens. It cannot itself be seen, but produces visible effects on the background of more distant objects whose images are distorted or multiply refracted around it.
True subjectivity follows from the thought "I am". This is totally disjunct and complementary to the objectivity of natural science, which follows from the thought "the world is". One is about the object-- even objects of thought-- while the other is about the point of view that is aware of objects. The difference is like that between noun and preposition. We confuse the issue by conceiving them on the same footing-- as both words-- but what the words point to are totally unalike. The subject cannot know itself, when knowing is an activity applied to objects.
From a scientific and also commonsense point of view, information and causal forces in the physical world impinge upon the organism, a physical object, driving its responses. But from an existential point of view, awareness goes out from the subject, through the organizing lens of mind, which imbues the objects of consciousness with its qualities. The body can be described causally, but the ultimately the subject cannot be described at all, since it is not a thing like the body, an objet trouve, but realizes itself through intentional acts of transcendence. The self is not an entity (e.g. a "soul" or "spirit"), and therefore not individual or plural. It is not real in the passive sense that physical things (like the brain) are real. We may inquire how the brain arose, and the behavior of the organism, but not how mind arose, which is self-creating outside time. Its system of entailments are logical rather than causal.
There is a tendency to imagine mind as a subtle physical substance-- a "subtle body". Since the physical world is the natural object of mind, when the mind is its own object of thought, it treats its contents as elements of a quasi-physical domain. Its operations, which are syntactic, are considered to have semantic content, to refer to the world-- and therefore appear tinged with substance. Though a system of logical entailments, they are modeled by causal processes within the brain. But all this is irrelevant to the status of mind: logical entailment constitutes a separate realm from the world of cause. It is not an ersatz physical world, any more than a preposition is an imitation noun. Because its natural object is the world, mind conceives all as thing; but its own nature is different.
To resolve the Mind-Body Problem ontologically is already subtly to adopt a realist or materialist stance, because it insists on speaking of what exists, while the model for existence implicitly remains physical . Perhaps the more important question concerns our relationship to what exists. Idealism then becomes not an ontological posture-- not simply a statement that "the self or mind alone exists"-- but more a proclamation of responsibility for one's experience. Realism is then not a denial of subjectivity, but a deeper understanding of the subject-object relationship.
27. The Concept of Spiritual Freedom.
The vulnerability of the organism is the root of both pain and pleasure, because the organism must evaluate the stimuli which impinge upon it in terms of their significance for its well-being. But the greatest source of human suffering and delusion is the reality principle itself-- which ironically is the mind's very solution to the problem of the body's vulnerability. Treating its experience as real is its primary adaptation to the world upon which its survival depends. The reifying tendency of the mind is its capacity to extend reality, or "objectness"-- on the model of literal physical reality-- into areas which are non-physical or not literal. It is, in effect, a form of hallucination. The solution becomes the problem when the sense of reality runs amok.
Therefore, the ability to question one's experience, to treat it not as reality but as a creation of the nervous system, is a great boon. This ability to bracket experience as subjective is the hallmark of modern consciousness, the culmination of eons of physical and cultural evolution. It can be intentionally cultivated as a discipline. It is the source of the inner freedom promised in the great spiritual traditions. Unfortunately, it is also the source of a further vulnerability-- of the mind which lives in an inner world of images.
Mobility, flexibility and masslessness may be the evolutionary advantages of thoughts over things, but these same properties are also their hazard. The inner world is much easier and more economical to manipulate than physical materials. The physical world resists human whim, but thoughts can be molded to desires. Deception and rationalization are possible only in a mental world. Knowledge of the processes by which mind interprets reality allows for its deliberate and skillful manipulation. The very cues the mind uses to assure itself of a valid interpretation, are just those that can be carefully and cleverly forged to produce the impression of authenticity.
The most effective way to control people is to define the games they will play-- including the cognitive games by which they experience the world and themselves. Perhaps the essence of intelligence is the ability to make mental connections leading to a global, comprehensive, and adequate model of reality upon which appropriate and effective action can be taken. To manipulate or obstruct the information flow of this modelling process is to control or limit the behavior arising from it. Disinformation is communication given out to control the model-- either by creating a distorted image in the subject's mind or by flooding the communication channel with irrelevant information. Facts are disarmed, or become outright lies, when isolated from their proper context, history, or unity with other facts in a total picture.
The mind in transition from the pre-subjective state to full subjectivity is in a vulnerable position. It projects its hopes and fears as real and external, in the form of non-physical entities suggested by the discovery of the subjective domain, yet also projected as objectively real. It is susceptible to the tyranny of superstition-- gods, demons, and invisible forces that terrorize the imagination. And of course it is vulnerable to manipulation by those who would exploit this aspect of mind to their own advantage.
Relative freedom is always contextual. In a "free" society, one is at liberty to drive along the street of one's choice, but not on the wrong side of the road. One can vote for one among several candidates, but these options are pre-selected in an elite process. Freedom is therefore the possibility of playing in a limited range of limiting games. In that light the important questions are: who shall define the game? And is it the largest, least limiting, and most engaging game one can play?
The absolute freedom spoken of in spiritual traditions is, above all, liberation from the tyranny of the body-mind, the compulsions of organic existence. The dilemma of the conscious subject is the poignant realization of being a potentially free point of view-- consciousness-- riding upon and trapped within the machinery of a deterministic physical universe. While the tragedy of living in a "meat machine" can be expressed abstractly, it is also very personal-- the essence of one's relationship to the body and the world. This relationship is felt most directly as the compellingness of experience-- the sense of reality which reflects the body's programming and the power of the world.
The tyranny of the body-mind is also experienced as the incessant flow of thoughts. The inner horizon, in other words, is not still, but seething with thoughts, feelings, activity. The biological purpose of all this mental activity is to anticipate and control experience-- that is, to evaluate the significance for the body of events and possibilities in the world. Its job is to sift good from bad, because by adhering to pleasurable experiences and avoiding painful ones, the survival of the organism in favored.
The subject is interior to all experience and to all behavior as well. It is witness and chooser. The freedom of the subject from the compelling meaning of experience is identical to its freedom from behavioral compulsion. This is so because the organism's experience-- whether a thought, an emotion, a bodily sensation or a perception of the world-- is its perspective on its behavioral options.
To remain interior to an experience is to disengage from its meaning. This meaning refers to the associated behavior because the meaning is a judgment and the behavior is an action concluded from the judgment. To identify with the experience is to identify with the response, and to be free from one is to be free from the other. I am free to contemplate my thoughts, my feelings, my body's pain, for example, to the degree I am free of compelling responses to the any of them. The perception and the behavior contain the same information, refer to the same situation, and are aspects of the same response carried out in perceptual and motor pathways. The experience and its associated behavior have the same meaning, deriving from the same intentional connections.
The ability-- indeed, the compulsion-- to assign a value and meaning to events in the world, is a product of natural selection. Our minds are dualistic because otherwise we simply would not have evolved. But consciousness is able to embrace this fact itself. We are aware of our circumstance, of our conditioning, and of the nature and limits of the platform upon which mind is built-- just as we are aware of our physical circumstance in the universe, as a life form on a planet in a galaxy of billions of stars, among billions of galaxies. That this is a fragile understanding is signalled by the enormous resistance to Darwinism and to Copernicanism before it (both negate a literal interpretation of the Bible-- the Catholic Church did not remove Galileo's book from the forbidden list until the nineteenth century).
The human mind is potentially an open system. Working within its own limits, it is able to see greater truths than what is built into in the system. This remarkable fact is the essence of what sets consciousness apart from animal servitude to instinct. To pursue a modern idiom, it is what gives us a degree of freedom that machines do not possess. It is the basis of the longing for transcendence at the core of the religious and intellectual traditions of both East and West.
Freedom is ultimately freedom from "reality". The desire for outer freedom addresses the power of nature, society and other people over us. The desire for inner, or spiritual, freedom is rather a response to the programming of the organism-- the principal symptom of which is the sense of reality (including the reality of the self). Now, this programming is itself a response to the power of the external world over the organism. Perception, emotion and thought are strategies in how to deal with the world and its dangers and opportunities. In other words, the whole normal range of human experience is simply an inner view of the programming of the organism. We experience our identification with this programming as the compellingness of the events around us-- that is, as the believability of our perceptions, thoughts and feelings. We gain freedom from it by restraining the sense of reality, by questioning our experiences and mastering the impulses to act which are based upon them. Since it appears to be forces in the world-- the environment and other people-- which have power over us, as a first line of defense we gain freedom from these forces by affirming a self that is apart from them and aligned with the organism in its quest to survive. But then we realize, in subjective consciousness, that interior forces act within our minds. So, going deeper, we realize that freedom is not only freedom from the dictates of the world, but also from the dictates of the organism and its mind.
Spiritual freedom is freedom from identity itself, from who we think we are and what we think we are entitled to. Ultimately it is freedom from being anyone at all. Just as we are innately convinced of the realness of the world, so we are convinced of our own reality as well. We believe we must exist because there must be someone to "have" experience. But as we have already affirmed, the subject is no object. And the subject, to be free, cannot be identified with any object-- neither the body nor the mind nor any of its contents.
We have learned not only to regard part of the phenomenal world as real and out there, but also to regard part of it as subjective and in here. The part of the continuum of consciousness that constitutes an experience of the body is held to be me, not something in the world. Similarly, we identify with the contents of consciousness that constitute thoughts and emotions: my thoughts, my emotions, as well as my body.
But my body is actually a physical object in the world. It is not a private experience but a public fact. It is an object with which this consciousness has a special relationship, because this brain is connected to this body, rather than to other bodies or external objects. The body-- as visual and somatic experience-- stands as object in relationship to consciousness which is subject. Therefore this body is not who "I" am, although I am free to call it "me" or "self" in deference to the special connection this consciousness has with it.
Similarly, "my" thoughts and emotions cannot be "I", the subject. Though they are not objects in the world, they are objects of consciousness, as external to "I" as objects in the world. The appropriation of these sectors of experience as part of "self" refers to their special connection with this body and brain as an ongoing background and source of the subject's experience. The self is taken to be the subjective realm in contrast to the world of external objects. But strictly speaking "I" does not exist as any sort of thing, neither in the world nor in the subjective realm as an object of experience. It is merely a point of view.
Spiritual freedom may be cultivated first by understanding clearly what it is. Worldly freedom is freedom of the ego. Spiritual liberation is freedom from the ego-- that is, from identification with the body-mind and its needs. It is not a carte blanche (… la New Age) to pursue one's desires-- nor indulge one's fears-- based on more sophisticated perceptions of what is real and desirable or dangerous. On the contrary, it is liberation from the appetites and fears of the conditioned body-mind which fuel such perceptions. Interest in it does not usually arise until there has been some disillusionment with images and formulas for success-- even spiritual success-- and the cycle of desire/action/result/desire. There must be some realization that "needs" are inherently insatiable, action inherently limited, and results inherently disappointing. The longing for spiritual freedom does not often arise before there has been a loss of confidence in the strength of one's perceptions and ideas of what is reality and where one is going within it. We do not usually question life until it fails us. Worldly freedom is the power to change one's experience. Spiritual freedom is the complementary power to change one's relationship to it.
So we must be clear about what we want. Do I want to have my way or protect myself in what I believe is the reality of this situation, or will I surrender to the unknown of what is? Is it enough to receive what is happening, observe it, be curious about it? Either I am rejecting this experience and conniving to get a different one, or I accept to meet this squarely as experience. A choice must be made between the desire for a different reality-- which implies judgment, agitation, emotional charge, struggle, drama-- and the desire for peace, which implies relaxing in the acceptance of what is.
To accept experience, however, does not necessarily mean to accept the conditions in the world that give rise to it. It is not a formula for passivity. It simply means we are not compelled by our conditioning, but are free to act rather than merely react. It means we are not possessed or duped by the mind, but are at liberty to use it as an instrument for examining and acting, when appropriate, upon the world.
If we choose surrender, often we find our whole perception and definition of the situation shifts. We see that what is is valuable in some unexpected way when we accept to face it. Often we see that nothing real of itself was causing us suffering, but only our way of thinking about it or stubborn insistence on having our way. In this, we are little different than small children, whose dramatic sufferings often seem so exaggerated to adults.
The basic longing of the subjectively conscious mind is for transcendence, for freedom from the constraints of whatever system it perceives itself to be immersed in. Self-consciousness is thus the root of the Fall from a state of grace within the natural order, because it is a perception of one's limiting condition. Animals are just as ego-centric as humans, and even more bound by their conditioning, but have no context within which to consider these as a limitations. Their state of grace is a simple relationship to the forces that govern the organism's fate-- a relationship of unselfconscious participation in the game of survival.
In the biblical myth of the Fall, taking in the knowledge of good and evil implies the right to judge, to evaluate experience. But this puts the cart before the horse, for this "right" is the precondition for survival of the body, the essence of the natural state of the organism. The self-conscious human mind may feel itself trapped inside a system whose premise is survival of the separate embodied ego, so that the Fall in effect is conceptualized as the fall of the soul into nature and embodiment. In this ancient view of the existential position of consciousness, we are spirit sojourning in a fallen material state. This is directly opposite to the more modern view that we are material systems which, having passed a threshold of self-consciousness, are dualistically aware of the limiting context which is the very condition of our being here as consciousness. On this reading of the myth, the Fall was the fall from a pre-subjective state into self-consciousness and its Faustian desire for freedom and self-transcendence.
The myth of the Fall carries another interpretation, in which to be naked in the Garden is to be totally self-accepting, spontaneous, non-judgmental. To be naked emotionally and psychologically is to be uninhibited, guileless, intimate, fearless of the others' responses, without guilt. When our eyes were opened in self-consciousness we lost our innocence and covered this naked vulnerability with all manner of psychological defense against the possibility of pain and all manner of calculation to achieve pleasure. The Fall was thus the fall from the innocence of the small child into the defensive personality structures we associate with adulthood, the fall from essence into ego. From this point of view, the spiritual goal is to recover, within adult autonomy and creative power, the natural state of innocent surrender to life.
The world always surprises us, and no formula adequately captures it. The longing for peace and transcendence cannot be parlayed into a program to avoid entanglements, for then this desire would have its disappointments and create its own suffering. We must be free even from the desire for peace, ultimately even from the desire for the freedom of desirelessness. We simply are free-- to choose surrender-- in each situation as though for the first time. As a discipline or practice, a conscious relationship to experience is simply the willingness, each and every moment, to meet what is. Spiritual freedom is not freedom from pain and suffering, and does not guarantee the ego's concepts of happiness, but is freedom from a self that craves happiness and abhors suffering. When we are willing to be fully in experience without having to do anything about it, then even death can have no sting.
Spiritual freedom is also, ultimately, the freedom to play. Having a conscious relationship to experience means being able to treat experience as an artistic medium, a challenging game. The child plays with imaginary companions; the artist plays with materials, forms, light and color; the athlete plays within a sport and with the limits of the body; the actor plays a role and with the audience's "willing suspension of disbelief"; the mathematician and the philosopher play with concepts.
By definition, reality is the mind's serious business. Spiritual freedom is liberation from the personal seriousness of the mind's presumed grasp of reality. As products of the natural world, we defer to the real. But the dreams of science and technology and the dreams of spiritual liberation both fly in the face of the power of reality. Though we find ourselves pawns in the vast game of Nature which we did not create, submissive to rules and even motivations which do not seem to be ours, subjective consciousness implies the ability to choose whether and how to take experience seriously. The path of spiritual freedom and the path of technology both seek liberation from the power of the game of survival to determine our experience and action.
One can play either to win or for the sheer experience. Winning means bringing play to a close. What is the goal in playing to win is therefore but an obstacle to play for its own sake, whose only goal is to prolong the delight of play. Playing to win means playing according to rules and within defined boundaries, while playing to play means playing with rules and boundaries. In the one case, the game determines the moves we shall make toward the goal. In the other, we ourselves define the game as we go along. One demonstrates the power and independent reality of the game. The other reflects the creative self-possession of the player.
Playing to win, one's attention is on the payoff of material or symbolic gratification. Such satisfactions, being elusive and ephemeral, can prove empty. The prize is something to strive for, not to have. Winning is self-defeating because it destroys the game, and we are then obliged to find another goal, always just over a receding horizon.
When we have seriously embraced the goals, rules and premises of a game, we come to think of it not as play at all, but as real and necessary-- as serious. To play a game, in the ordinary sense, means to play in earnest, to do your best to win. In general, the interest of games lies in pitting oneself against equals, or against time or chance or some other worthy adversary. One tests oneself and, if successful, wins status among others.
No matter how serious one gets about a recreational game, it is always only a game. In the games of life, however, it is largely in cynical, poetic, or specially lucid moments that we view our serious pursuits as games at all. We are not usually at play in life but at work.
Seriousness and play are complementary dimensions of experience. Life is played out or seriously pursued between these poles. It is always a balance, a mixture. Seriousness refers ultimately to survival value. What we are serious about appears to us as necessary, because it is perceived and justified as some feature of reality. Seriousness, reality and necessity have to do with the context of being an organism. From this point of view play, like consciousness, is an afterthought. Even so, in our gravest moments there is a part of us that remains faithful to the spirit of play. Humor is the irruption of that spirit into consciousness. If we didn't sometimes take things seriously, there would be nothing to laugh at the rest of the time. If we didn't sometimes laugh at our seriousness, we would be driven automatons. Neither machine nor disembodied spirit, one is immersed in the urgencies of life and yet capable of standing back, amused.
It is tempting to treat play as a phenomenon, a behavior that is functional in the survival of the organism. There have been many explanations of play in serious frameworks-- inquiries into its biological, social or psychological value. Interesting as these may be, it must be admitted that to reduce the phenomenon of play to something serious is scarcely a playful gesture. Whatever else it may be, play is primarily an irreducible mode of being, an attitude or stance.
While pure play refuses to be circumscribed, always giving the slip to any fence drawn around it, as soon as play turns serious it becomes crystallized in a finite and rigid structure with a limited goal: a game. A game is play structured-- consciously or not-- by serious intent, a compromise between the poles of seriousness and play, a synthesis of the necessary and the gratuitous, of reality and imagination.
A game to earnest eyes appears serious. But one's earnestness can in turn be circumscribed, appearing to others-- or to oneself at another time-- as mere play. Viewed externally, a game is a limiting, arbitrary, gratuitous construction, until some larger context is found in which to restore its inner sense. But this larger context can in turn be circumscribed. Anything can be done, not only for some purpose or as a result of some cause, but for no reason at all. Conversely, anything done can be lent purpose and significance. Of course, seriousness and play are relative dimensions of behavior rather than separate activities. Nothing is inherently urgent or trivial but that some value makes it so. It is always possible to stand apart from such a value. One is always in a position to play, however serious the situation. Conversely, because the world is a whole fabric, it is always possible to find significance and broad implications for any detail, however gratuitous or trivial it may seem.
Freud's concept of the child's "polymorphously perverse" sexuality is upside down-- a view of play framed from the point of view of adult genital sexuality. The child's state of universal bodily enjoyment comes first in time and is logically primary. Genital sexuality focuses this energy, which is appropriated by the purposes of the adult ego. Men are particularly conditioned to channel the energy of eternal delight into desire for specific objects of satisfaction. Free ranging energy is organized into a disturbing pressure to be released, a goal to be attained, and games of seduction.
Though I may like one person more than another (because one brings me more personal pleasure or delight), it is logical that I should behave lovingly toward all. The expression of love may differ from person to person, but in all cases will be for the good of the other, rather than being merely a response to qualities believed to reside in the other. Such personal response, while apparently to the other, is actually a response to the criteria for one's pleasure. Our likes and dislikes are reactions to the object, reflecting the dependency of the organism on the environment. Love or compassion, on the other hand, is a response originating unilaterally with the subject, free and distinct from the organism. Since love represents freedom both from the the object and from the organism's programming, if I desire such freedom it is logical to love as an assertion of it. Love is how we express freedom from self-centeredness. More generally, play is how we express freedom from reality and the conditioning of the organism. And love is an expression of play.
A formal axiomatic system is like a parlour board game. It has playing pieces and rules defining possible moves, as well as a game space within which the action takes place. It consists of four sorts of things: symbols, formation rules, initial conditions or expressions, and transformation rules. To these elements are added theorems-- the conclusions, goals or "moves". Formation rules are the basic rules or assumptions determining how the symbols may and may not be strung together to form "expressions". Initial expressions are also called axioms or postulates-- the input of the system. Transformation rules are the algorithms by which expressions may be handled in order to derive theorems. Theorems are the output of the system.
Unlike the elements of a causal system, those of a formal system are intentional and unambiguous. They exist exactly and only as what they have been declared to be. Like the rules of a game, they are well-defined and true because we agree to them. Truth-by-definition is a process of useful idealization. For example, even though perfect right angles and dimensionless points cannot actually be drawn, their idealizations can be manipulated in thought with complete precision.
Formal systems contain explicitly only what has been defined for them and, implicitly, the logical consequences of these definitions. This gives formal systems a self-contained, tautological and "digital" character. Empirical facts do not have the formal validity which makes the truths of logic seem irresistibly necessary. On the other hand, logically necessary truths are devoid of information for this very reason. There is no news in them about the world, because they concern what is changeless.
A formal system hangs together purely on the threads of logical necessity until it is "interpreted" as a mapping of some portion of the real world-- as plane geometry can be interpreted to map the physical properties of the earth's surface . Then its premises may appear as truths about the world, its logical structure to mirror the organization of reality. But a formal system can also be viewed as a self-contained game played according to arbitrary rules.
The essence of the concept of formal system is that intuitive areas of thought are replaced with mechanical operations. A procedure is formalized for arriving at conclusions on the basis of prior specified assumptions and agreed-upon rules of reasoning. That is, a method of proof is defined. This precludes "just knowing" the truth, and also allows us to distinguish truth from either belief or provability. The relativized or subjectified version of truth is provability. The concept of truth implies something which exists in itself absolutely, but a proposition or belief requires a mind to formulate it and a method to prove it. Now, if proof is held to be merely an inconvenient detour to a truth that exists prior to and independent of any methods of proof, then reasoning and provability are dispensable, since the mind can justify its leaps by direct appeal to "intuition". Certainly the mind can conceive a theorem or proposition as true or false before a proof has been undertaken, just as it conceives that objects continue to exist when out of sight. Theorems may be intuited as true, even though unprovable in any known system, just as some physical entities may be suspected to exist, though never observed.
In contrast, provability is always relative to some particular formal system. By definition, it is decidable for all complete systems. Since proof means derivability from axioms, no system can prove its own axioms, but can only justify itself as convention or by appeal to some outside reality. Truth refers to such a reality beyond the pale of a given system. Proof is always proof-within-a-system, relying on an intentional acceptance of the premises of the system. Truth is absolute in that it refuses to specify its premises-- to be axiomatized, in other words-- since that would imply having to appeal to a domain beyond itself for justification.
To lie beyond a specific system is quite different than to lie beyond all possible systems. We can always find and specify a formal system larger than any given one. This constitutes the "reality" in which the propositions of the latter are interpreted as true or false. But our intuitive idea of truth is that it lies beyond all formality, beyond all limitation, beyond all human creation. Existing in and of itself, truth is transcendent reality. Such truth can be approached but never reached, because it can never be fully specified. No sooner does one attempt to circle the world-beyond-all-worlds in which this absolute truth is true, then in the same gesture a meta-system is defined outside the circle one has drawn.
The mind as formalism has the same dual nature as mathematics: it can indulge in pure gratuitous fancy or its creative efforts can be hitched to practical activity within the natural or social spheres. The map as self-contained system is a thing in its own right-- a work of art, perhaps-- as well as a sign pointing to an outer world. The mind is a map which structures the organism's relationship with the world, and it is also an arbitrary construct, a formalism, a game.
Cognitive structures are not models of the world in the sense that a model airplane is an imitation of a real aircraft, but rather in the sense that theories of the atom are models of entities not otherwise accessible to experience. A real airplane embodies a theory about what kind of machine could fly. It is at once a physical object and a conceptual system. This system is the design of the aircraft, based on an empirical knowledge of flight and a theory of aerodynamics. The fact that the airplane actually flies is proof of the theory and validation of the knowledge. The scale model (whether or not it actually flies) is a simplified version of the same conceptual system. As physical objects, both aircraft and model belong to a real analog domain perhaps unfathomably rich in detail, while the conceptual systems they embody are digital, propositional, sparsely-defined intentional abstractions.
A cognitive model is a conceptual system, which can be formalized if a conscious agent can stand in for the intentionality of the system and exhaustively express its elements. If a system is thus potentially formalizable in this sense, let us call it an informal system. Then, not only cognitive models but all intentional creations are informal systems. Human culture as a whole and all its particular manifestations are informal systems. What is not such a system is the world-in-itself, the transcendent analog domain that can never be completely captured in any formal expression. All that exists can thus be divided in two categories: the domain of intentional creations, which can be formalized, and the transcendent causal world, which cannot.
Cultural institutions are informal systems, embodied in their physical "interpretations". The human mind has gone to great lengths to remove itself from Nature by imposing an intentional world of its own design-- culture-- upon the analog or natural world. The humanly invented world is the one in which the mind seems master-- but at the peril of what this mastery may fail to encompass. Culture, as informal system, is a kind of theory of reality, like the airplane is a theory of flight. The degree to which culture is out of harmony with Nature (that is, reality) is the degree to which the theory does not fly.
Human culture mediates our relationship with the natural world, in much the same way that experience is mediated by cognitive models. This is true also of particular institutions. A business or a corporation is an informal system. So is a science or a school, a religion or a church, a state or a government, an art or an opus, a language or a library or a book. Cultural creations are externalized cognitive models, with a dual existence as self-contained games and as metaphors that point to reality.
A game consists of a playing space, pieces, and rules. It embodies and is equivalent to a formal system. The space and the pieces may be literal and physical, or metaphorical and conceptual. The rules may be unstated or explicit. The space may be playfully explored or negotiated in earnest. If other players are involved, the game may have cooperative or competitive aspects. There may be levels of challenge and competence. Information concerning the structure of the game and the status of play in progress may be revealed or partially concealed-- as in poker where one does not show one's cards. The game may be a social event involving direct or indirect contact with other players, or may be a solitary discovery of the game space-- as in some computer adventure games. The game may involve strategy and/or chance. Game theory may be applied to the strategies of opponents.
The player occupies a higher logical level than the game-- her world is larger. A game could involve self-reference, logical levels, paradox. The elements meta to a game are everything about it that is not formally defined within it: strategy, communications and coalitions between players, bluffing and deception, the personal stakes of the players, actions between turns, etc. These could be incorporated as formal elements of a meta-game-- for instance, one which modeled the process of gaming.
A key to the universal fascination of games is their nature as structured but gratuitous creations. As such they have an appeal akin to that of music, art and mathematics, deriving from the interest of form. Mind, so to speak, needs a place to hang its hat. It seeks out and creates structured spaces within which it can operate competently. It likes ordered situations in which it can "learn the ropes". The rules and kinds of moves allowable must be clear; the playing space and pieces, the goals and payoffs, the criteria for win or lose, must be well-defined. Playing games is what the mind does well, ordering experience and behavior in rule-governed game-like structures. A game is a behavioral schema imposed in the domain of action, just as a cognitive model is imposed in the domain of perception or thought.
Such schemata, considered as informal systems, can either be "interpreted" or not. That is, they may either serve a metaphorizing function, pointing to the world and mediating our relationship to it, or they may gratuitously be indulged for their own sake or to satisfy an internal need. A model or theory could be considered a serious application of a game structure toward representing the real world. Conversely, games played for fun can be considered gratuitous versions of theories about the world (consider Monopoly as a model of capitalism).
A game is an individual as well as a species (a game of chess rather than the game of chess). A game tree is a simultaneous representation of the possible moves at every stage of an individual game-- a branching of branchings of branchings... It shows the actual development of play, among all such possible developments, as a timeless system of logical interrelationships.
As well as the formal aspect of games, there is the dimension of competition-- what Huizinga called the agonistic character of play. Games serve as a test or contest, the outcome of which is an increase or decrease of wealth or status. A game not only organizes activity but defines value. It has an outcome: the payoff. In game theory, a player is called rational who plays in earnest to win the defined payoff (who plays, in other words, for keeps!)
Roles may be differentiated within what is nominally the same game. Psychiatrist and patient have different positions within the game of therapy. But whatever asymmetries exist, it is certain that there is some reward for loser as well as victor, for otherwise the course of play would not continue. While the ostensible goal of therapy is to "cure" the patient, meta-payoffs in the game of psychiatry include the fees of the doctor, the prestige of having a "shrink" and that of being a professional in a superior position with regard to clients, the human contact involved, etc.
To the extent that playing is its own proper reward, winning can actually be counterproductive-- for then the game ends. The explicit payoff nullifies the meta-payoff, and the winner is a spoilsport for stopping the game. When the meta-payoff has priority, winning may be indefinitely postponed. This can have insidious results, for instance, in a therapeutic context.
A game must be finite, well-defined, graspable-- in short, playable. An activity is perceivable as a game when one can stand outside of it, detached from its premises and goal. Until then one is caught within it, hypnotized by it, believing it real, serious, unlimited. One is then grasped by it, carried away in its apparent reality.
A game is eminently a problem to solve, something for the mind to engage, figure out, enter into, possibly win. The problem-solving mentality eagerly accepts the premises of a game as found. Convergent thinking, as it is called, finds the preordained unique solution in a well-defined problem space by applying known algorithms. But even so-called divergent thinking, as measured by test problems that are ill-defined or have multiple solutions, calls for a response that is structured by a fixed problem space given by the creators of the test. The true alternative to convergent thinking is autonomous creativity, in which individuals define their own problem situations and rewards according to their own visions and goals. The fact that a game is a limited, structured activity makes it playable, but also guarantees eventual dissatisfaction with its limits. Disillusionment is seeing the limitedness, the finiteness and smallness of a game from which one feels oneself disengaging. Engagement means moving within a game which is not seen as such, since one is identified with it, lost within its parameters. The difference is more a matter of how than whether one continues to play the game.
Mind is prominently a game player, a problem solver. Every form of mental activity that has a content, a structure, a goal, is a limiting game. This includes all forms of cognition and thought. What is not such is just being-- a state of repose, like a radio that is "on" but tuned to no station. It does not depend on doing, on the outcome of any game-- even the game of "enlightenment".
Every game generates a world. A world is a game space, generated by a set of premises and rules, and projected as real. The game is crystallized as a world by the intentional act of taking it seriously (coupled with the equally intentional act of forgetting that one has done so). The world of Monopoly consists of every thing and action that is defined and allowable in the game. To the degree that human activities in the real world can be formalized, they are game-like. To the degree we intend an interpretation, the worlds generated by these games are the reality we actually inhabit. Consider the worlds of the office, the factory, the schoolroom, the home; worlds of high finance, backroom politics, medicine, the Pentagon; worlds of science fiction, TV commercials, soap operas; personal worlds of individual dramas. The entire human environment (the world), being an intentionally structured informal system, is a vast game imposed upon the substrate of Nature. Machines as embodiments of formal systems are games. Even physical reality itself, as accessed through game-like knowledge systems, is a hierarchy of games within games. The limit of the game is the limit of the world. We literally live in the world defined by our game-- the conceptual space within which action is possible and legal, and outside of which nothing is defined or even thinkable. While the notion of game may extend to include any serious activity-- business, war, love, career, etc.-- there exist recreational games that simulate (and trivialize) just about anything serious. Each constitutes a world in this diminutive sense. What the problem-solving mind does best is to endorse and embellish the existing order, or to pursue recreation for its own sake. True creativity transcends the status quo and the confines of the local metaphor to point to a larger reality beyond the game.
Experience must not be too boring (redundant) nor too novel (chaotic), but must fall within a middle zone in which stimuli can be comfortably assimilated to existing models. This is what problem solving is all about. It must take place within the cognitive limits of a well-structured game of assigning meanings to inputs. These limits are not absolute, but stretchable bounds of a preferred or habitual domain. Problems, questions, or areas of inquiry may be too large or vague for attack by the problem-solving mind, leaving it confused or unengaged, or producing solutions that are too general, facile, ambiguous or glib. At the other extreme, problem areas can be too circumscribed, leaving the mind uninspired and producing answers that are trivial, parochial, or irrelevant in their specificity. To be interesting, the problem space must be structured but not overgrown with its own workings. It must remain transparent and open to the larger world.
The further a game has progressed, the more restricted the possible moves, the more defined the problem space. There is a natural rhythm to a game. From the nearly arbitrary opening moves, interest deepens and focuses as we become involved in the convolutions of the game. Eventually options become so restricted that the outcome appears determined and interest wanes (as in chess, when one player no longer has enough or the right pieces to resist checkmate). The most engaging part of the game is the middle, in the excitement of problem-solving battle, in pursuit of solutions which are achievable but not fore-ordained. Some projects never get going because they do not reach a critical momentum of involvement. One must be able to see a certain distance into the game in order to be interested at all, to see that a goal can be reached before it is enquired how. Other projects fail near completion because all that remains are clerical tasks that no one wants to do. Problem solving seduces the aspect of mind that clings to the relative comfort of the middle zone. Problems must not be too difficult or complex, nor too easy or simple, but must present challenge and sport without exasperating or boring the mind.
There are as many worlds as there are world-creating gestures of the mind. The basic positive activity of the mind is creating worlds-- which are fleshed in through its need to operate in structures it experiences as independent of itself. This (pre-subjective) mode of the mind does not recognize such creations as worlds in the diminutive sense, but as constituting reality. Only after the fact, so to speak, does subjective consciousness reframe the mind's steps as a process of world creation.
One advantage of living in an apparently solid, real world is that decisions and beliefs are authorized as consequences of forces perceived to lie beyond one's control or responsibility. Reality provides a non-arbitrary basis for the priorities of the organism, and raises them to the status of necessity. A creature accepts the premises of its world, orienting its behavior toward winning in the game of survival. A world makes goal-oriented "rationality" possible and necessary. Its downside is that play is restricted to such activity, to the pursuit of such values as defined within it. The mind becomes mired in the labyrinth of its own cleverness. This is why people become disillusioned with a "rat race" they once pursued with enthusiasm.
The overhead of maintaining a world can interfere with its avowed purpose-- the perennial complaint about bureaucracies. The mind can be shipwrecked by its own sirens. The game is then played more for its own sake than as a mediator of reality; the rules assume more importance than the outcome. Much of modern western philosophy, for example, is every bit as scholastic as that of the middle ages-- a dance of technical angels on the heads of linguistic pins. The esthetic or play value of the game, appreciated by only a few, then supersedes its truth value, and so becomes irrelevant to life at large. Distracted by the intrinsic satisfactions of problem solving, the mind allows the problems of the larger world to go unheeded. Thus, personal games and private dramas take up so much of the collective energy that there is a kind of global brain drain away from the large-scale issues affecting human destiny. Evolution gives way to convolution.
The formal qualities of an activity or situation come to attention when we consider it as play rather than as serious. These functions compete as well as complement each other. Sometimes the serious intent of an activity (such as scientific research or charitable fundraising) is obstructed by its formal organization. The world of an activity has its own momentum that can divert its ostensible purpose. An activity may be aimed at the world, but covertly satisfy the need of the mind to play within formally structured bounds.
Cognitive activities have their formal game-like structure, and many activities considered gratuitous perform a mediating cognitive role. Sports and hobbies, like children's play, are reality-testing grounds for evolving basic attitudes and skills, while physical reality itself is a cognitive game whose tokens are various entities, and whose operations are laws or processes that amount to transformations performed upon initial states.
All intellectual disciplines have their formal qualities. Results must be reached by certain methods, the game must be played according to the rules. This is as true in law or medicine as it is in mathematics. Art, esthetic appreciation, and the concept of quality in general, involve games of evaluation and skill. In all creative fields there are esthetic sports of conception and imagination, of execution and technical mastery, of marketing, of showmanship and of one-upmanship, of satisfying particular tastes, etc. Ironically, originality itself can be a game in which the right move is determined by what others have done and are doing.
31. Time and Space
Time is the means by which we first have our cake and then eat it. Space allows things not to be themselves. A physical world is a system in which the logically impossible is permissible in fact. And what accommodates the difference between a physical system and a logical system is time and space.
An example of a logically impossible statement is "If X then not X". This says that if X is true then X is false. As a proposition in a logical system, it contradicts itself. A logical system cannot be consistent if it contradicts itself, and so there can be no reliable order in it. If X is a physical object, rather than an assertion, X cannot both exist and not exist-- that is, not at the same time. But it is entirely possible for X to exist and then not exist at a later time-- either because it is destroyed (transformed) or because it no longer exists in the same location (it has moved).
Time is a device with which contradiction can be lived out in an orderly way. Contradiction becomes oscillation when considered in time. "Day implies not day" expresses the diurnal cycle. "If up then down" describes a bouncing ball. A logical contradiction is endlessly recursive but timeless: "If X then not X, then not (not X), then not (not (not X))..."etc. There is a static, timeless stand-off between X and its opposite. They are two equal opponents in an eternal stalemate. A physical system accommodates self-contradiction by allowing one force and then the other to have its moment on the stage sequentially. Instead of cancelling each other out, one transforms into the other. Implication-- the then of logic-- becomes cause, the then of time.
Indeed, time is measured by regular oscillation-- the ticking of clocks, the planet orbiting the sun, atoms vibrating in crystals. How do we know how long the cycle of an oscillation is, or that a clock is regular? Solely by comparing it with other oscillators believed to be reliable. And what about them ? The problem is similar with space. How do we know how long a foot is, or that all the inches in a foot are equal? By comparing with other rulers or measures of space. Intuitively, we judge an interval of time or space by what other processes transpire during that interval of time, or what other distances fill up that interval of space. The interval has no intrinsic size apart from such references. Without them we can determine neither the length nor even the nature of the interval (whether it is space or time).
Just as time is the physical counterpart of logical implication, space is the physical counterpart of logical separability. If two things are logically or "numerically" distinct, then by definition they are two and not one. (Two things are one when there are simply two references to the same item). It must be assumed that any thing is identical to itself. Certainly there could not be any more blatant contradiction than the assertion "X is not X"-- that something is not itself. If it cannot be assumed that an element of a logical system is identical to itself, there can be no order in that system. But in a physical system, two elements can be identical in every way except their spatial location. We are used to thinking that apparently identical objects are nevertheless subtly different, if examined closely enough. But it seems that on the subatomic level two particles may indeed be qualitatively identical, while numerically distinct because of their separation in space. It is therefore space that allows for the multiplicity of particles, while in every qualitative respect there may be only one such particle. Like the answer to a riddle, X is not X when it is somewhere else.
It is said that at the beginning of time and space there was but one "particle", a singularity infinitely dense (and apparently unstable). Something "happened", at which event its inner contradictions ceased to be potential (logical) and became actual (physical). The singularity became a multiplicity, and the logically distinct elements of the cosmos became physically distinct, requiring spatial separation and the mutual distances which their properties required. Or perhaps it was the other way around-- space itself exploded under the pressure of logical contradiction, and "particles" precipitated as fallout in the sudden expansion. Either way, it went from a very tense and chaotic oneness, where everything was timelessly present together, to a more unwound and orderly world in which incompatible possibilities could be systematically developed in time. The Big Bang heralds our separation in distinct physical bodies, and also points back to our primordial spiritual unity. After all, before the Big Bang, we all literally were each other, since every bit of matter and energy in the universe was together at the same point! Because the universe did not expand into a preexisting space, like a conventional explosion, the whole cosmos is in some sense still together at one point. In other words, space, time and multiplicity are merely appearances.
32. Cycles and the Shadow of Thought
Subjective consciousness holds in check the world-creating impulses of the pre-subjective, naively realist mind. History has long played leapfrog with such dualities. Matter and mind form an inseparable pair in a dialectic of thing and thought, real and ideal, object and subject, cause and intention, absolute and relative, serious and playful. They are as bound together as the poles of a magnet. They alternate as undercurrents that rise to the surface in philosophical, social, esthetic, and scientific fashions. Together they are the dynamic driving consciousness toward greater objectivity. If there is a need to relativize and subjectify experience and thought-- by disengaging its formal aspects-- there is a corresponding need to reengage on higher levels, to assert more adequate models, to reinvest in better metaphors and explore wider horizons. To leave a nest is to find oneself nested in a larger world.
The limiting nature of any system of thought excludes whatever is founded on other than its own principles: beyond the frontier of any empire lies wilderness and chaos. The wider world at large is greater than any civilizing order; there is always an edge to the pool of light. The map can never be perfect or complete, and what it leaves out returns somehow to haunt its makers, gaining momentum until the tables are turned and the current reality is eclipsed by its own shadow. History breathes through a dialectic of incompatibles, a dance of yin and yang. Every value, thought, or gesture has a darker side, a shadow cast by its own positive but limited presence. These shadow truths must in turn have their moments up stage, must come forth as realities dominating attention. The shadow solidifies as the solid dissolves into shadow.
The propositional nature of thought guarantees a complement to any assertion. There is always the other side of the coin. The shadow is a proposition in its own right, an anti-thesis. Because value is defined in terms of the primary system, the shadow may appear as repulsive, degenerate, wrong, frightening, evil, etc. If and when the shadow becomes primary, this value system will be reversed, the world turned upside down. What was evil will be appreciated as good, and vice-versa.
Shadows are cast by localized sources of light. It is not only the solidity of objects of thought, but the localization of illuminating attention, that produces contrast. Thought always comes from somewhere. Awareness is always identified with a perspective, with the premises of some system, beginning with the body, and focussed on some object. Such thought cannot contain opposites, cannot encompass both the object and its shadow in the same breath. It cannot illuminate areas hiding in shade. Even so, there are no intrinsically dark regions. Darkness is always relative to the source of light, to the mind's assumptions. Shift the light and the shadow moves accordingly.
There is an intimate relation between negation, or logical contradiction, and processes that oscillate in time. Once in motion, inertia carries a pendulum, for instance, past its natural resting place until its motion has been entirely converted to potential energy through the resistance of gravity. It then swings back the other way, gaining kinetic energy at the expense of its height, and so on. The logic of this behavior could be described as 'if yes, then no'. The same is true of an oscillating circuit: 'if on, then off'. Contradiction cannot be stably contained in the same system, but gives rise to an alternation in time of one state with its opposite. 'Yes' is not simply negated by 'no', but turns into it, and vice-versa. Logical contradiction can be considered an abstraction, out of time, of material contradiction. Conversely, dialectical processes may be considered the acting out in time of logical contradictions.
Unresolved conflict necessarily moves in cycles. Neither the thesis nor its shadow gains permanent ascendancy. The pendulum never escapes the restraining force of gravity, and gravity (in the ideal absence of friction) never finally overcomes the energy of movement. To the degree that historical forces similarly involve a mutually unstable equilibrium of figure and ground, they are also doomed to repeat in some sense. But to the degree that there is an overall net force acting on the system, it will be driven through a spiral-like evolution. History does not repeat exactly or literally, but thematically, on broad scales. There is a perennial resurgence of interests or points of view that are never completely exhausted or definitively expressed in their heyday.
The key to dialectics lies in the fact that opposites remain unintegrated, unsynthesized. Synthesis depends on the transcendence of opposition. If there is an overall evolution in the themes of human thinking, it must be because of changes in the container to thought itself-- changes allowing seeming incompatibles to be assimilated to more powerful models. In this process, the system is then freed from some particular dialectical oscillation when specific opposing forces are reconciled. The system can then go on to engage in a fresh dialogue of new or higher-level antinomies.
Throughout history there has been a dialectical relationship between the playful, inventive, ironic side of the human spirit and the heroic, serious, goal-oriented, realist side. The heroic is straightforward, straitlaced and straight-lined, earnest, passionately simplistic, concerned with content over form, tending toward militarism, conservatism and even fascism in its monolithic beeline toward a monumental and purportedly objective ideal. The ironic is subjective, witty, tongue-in-cheek, curvy and ornate, permissive to self-indulgent and even aimless, tending toward formalism empty of content. The latter is the former put in quotes, bracketed as an inner esthetic object to play with in mental fields. Both are hazardous in isolation, each requiring the balance of the other. We need both the ability to make things real, to be earnest, but also the ability to play, to question.
The objective totality of a situation is an imaginary, subjective construct. There is no circumventing such constructs, which are images in the human cognitive domain. Evaluating the adequacy of a cognitive model cannot be a question of holding it up alongside the world-in-itself for an inspection of the fit. Our intuitive understanding of the adequacy of cognition is therefore tacitly based on the assumption that the world really is as we personally see it. This permits us to compare the cognitive domains of other minds to our own standard. When we attempt to evaluate the human cognitive domain, we question the adequacy of the standard itself. This does not imply, however, that adequacy has no meaning.
A creature can get along quite well without what a human would regard as a global or objective image of the world, because its response to the environment happens to work, in the sense that the life of the species is ensured even if that of the individual is not. The species possesses a knowledge that is tuned to particular conditions in relation to which this knowledge is viable. It wastes no effort on a program more sophisticated than required. Were these conditions different, the knowledge might be different.
A creature's representation of the world that is thus locally adapted may appear to us sparse and selective-- like a digitized image that only indicates selective rough features-- for example, large areas of light and dark, sudden movement, straight lines, etc. This is far from what appears to the human eye as an image of the scene. However, such an impoverished representation might be sufficient for the creature's situation. By human standards, its world would be a simple propositional system based upon a few axioms.
The downside of locally adapted systems is that the conditions, on which the rules of the game are based, might change. The constancy of the system depends on the equilibrium of the environment. This general arrangement works well for species that have massive numbers of progeny (the species, if not the individual, survives) in a stable environment, whereas to be globally adapted is more important for species that place heavier reliance on the individual's survival in a variable environment. For instance, mammals maintain an internal temperature in spite of ambient changes, and so are more globally adapted than cold-blooded creatures.
Relative adequacy means that the cognitive model takes more into account; the creature's knowledge is tuned to a wider variety of contingencies. It employs greater sensitivity and flexibility in its dealings with the world in order to preserve the constancy of its own identity. It places greater importance on the individual creature's cognition, which is more a product of learning and less of instinct. The simpler and more rigid the cognitive program, the more efficient and foolproof it is, but the more the organism is at the mercy of the environment. The more complex and adaptable the program, the more freedom the organism has from external contingencies, while internal consistency is a greater challenge.
The adequacy of a model is a function of how much the model encompasses, since its range of actions depends on the variety of contingencies it is equipped to deal with. Perfect adequacy would mean a model that mapped every possible contingency to effective responses. Apart from the neurological unfeasibility of such a brain, this creature would still not be impartial. Adequacy is a measure of how a mind responds to the complexity and subtlety of the world. Impartiality is a measure of a mind's ability to engage multiple viewpoints, to transcend its own models or programs. The former addresses possible states of external reality, the latter possible states of mental organization.
A cognitive system can be viewed as an abstract propositional structure, based on arbitrary premises. The main constraint on natural cognitive systems is viability in a selective environment. This considerably narrows the possibilities and creates a common denominator for living systems. It also greatly restricts the objectivity of organisms. This does not of itself prevent them from conceiving objectivity, nor preclude the possibility that impartiality, like adequacy, may have utility. After all, impartialness confers a freedom complementary to that of adequacy: freedom from one's particular biases.
Linear thinking is a matter of connecting one point to another through the rules of logic. We move through mental space step by step, unable to see where we are going and sure only of the next foothold-- like blind mountain climbers with the faith that, if each step takes us further "up", we will eventually reach the top. If many ascents are made by different paths, we finish with a global knowledge of the mountain. Linear or propositional thinking may be a strategy pursued in the absence of a global picture-- or knowledge abstracted from such a picture-- but it is also the beginning of a new picture. And what is asserted at one level of cognition must be abandoned in order to create the next higher level. Individual pictels cannot retain their significance as isolated propositions if an image is to emerge from their collective ensemble. The opposing propositions that are the horns of a dilemma cannot stand as independent assertions if the paradox is to be resolved. Thesis and antithesis give way eventually to synthesis. What is required for this to happen is a shift away from the given level, in which attention vacillates between two contradictory propositions or impulses, to a meta level in which the contradiction disappears in an emerging larger picture.
The conflicts of life force the mind painfully to higher levels of understanding, revising its models to become more encompassing, adequate, and even impartial. The more widespread holistic thinking becomes, the more individual minds are bound to converge on a commonly conceived reality-- just as differences of visual perspective tend to diminish with distance from a scene, or are better understood to arise from incidental orientation with regard to a commonly perceived real object. Throughout life the maturing consciousness recapitulates the young child's development of an objective perception of space. The drift of the evolution of consciousness-- for the human species as for the individual-- is toward a more objective representation of the world. The key to this process, ironically, is the development of the inner space of subjective consciousness, the antithesis to the primary world-creating mind. The purpose of subjective consciousness is to create a pure subject-object relationship with experience. The dynamical affective component of experience is denatured by bracketing its contents as mere objects of consciousness. For example, one becomes conscious of fear, no longer as a possessing compulsion toward a certain behavior or a belief in impending events, but rather as a configuration of sensations within the body.
Objective consciousness is not at all the same as the naive pre-subjective awareness of the world, which it resembles and recapitulates on a higher level. Both face external reality, but the objective consciousness is a dialectical synthesis of the pre-subjective state with the skepticism of subjectivity. Objectivity and subjectivity are not opposites but partners in the evolution of mind. Objectivity is never final, but always a relative state emerging in a cycle of learning, and the adequacy of any system of thought is relative and temporary. Mind cannot finally attain to the truth-- the absolute reality of the territory-- in the singular ultimate sense it is so fond of imagining. Though it may be indefinitely refined, the map is never finished.
Objective knowledge must be independent of the path through which it is acquired. The objective mind does not confuse map with territory. While it may rely on particular perceptions, experiences, memories or states in order to access its knowledge, it does not commit idolatry by worshipping these. Such experiences are the referents for the knowledge, merely signs for the signified, which itself remains transcendent. The mind depends on them to know that it knows what it knows, but must not mistake them for the knowledge itself. Mystical experiences and states are the concrete symbols that allow us to focus upon the ineffable, the invisible, the abstract-- the Absolute. Fingers pointing to the moon.
34. Identity and the Absolute
If the concept of absolute truth means anything at all it must refer to the common denominator of all cognitive systems. Since there is such apparent diversity among the life forms we are familiar with on this planet, it is difficult enough to discern what they have in common as cognitive systems, let alone the common basis of all possible cognitive systems! Whatever it is must be very basic, simple and abstract. The absolute truth of which we are speaking must have at least the generality of the truths of mathematics, which describe the universal properties of "objectness" (existence, discreteness, plurality, location-- in short, number). It must describe what is true for all subjects, just as mathematics describes what is true of all objects.
We might speculate that the ultimate commonality described by mathematics is the same essence of objective reality referred to as Brahman in Vedic scriptures. If so, these scriptures assure us, there is a second ultimate commonality: that of all subjects, minds, experiences-- the Atman which is the essence of consciousness. The truth, in order to be absolute, must ultimately embrace these commonalities as one. The ultimate reality of the subject, the scriptures say, is none other than the ultimate reality of the object: Atman is Brahman. Idealism holds that the subject is real while the object is not; materialism, that the object alone is real. But if it is true that "subject is object", they must stand or fall together.
The search for the absolute is a process of abandoning categories, of halting or relaxing thought. Ultimately the being of both subject and object is without category-- simply the recognition of boundless "isness", the realization of the equivalence and arbitrariness of all things and of all points of view from an absolute perspective.
The absolute truth of the subject is that it is a dimensionless point of view, interior to all experience. It is an indefinitely inner locus, which can be pictured as the center of a circular mandala. For us humans, immediately surrounding this point is a shell of thoughts; surrounding that is a shell of emotions; surrounding that, the shell of somatic sensations. These realms comprise experience of the body. Beyond lies the zone of the world, though no layer is strictly bounded. The intermediary zones, of the body and its thoughts and feelings, are the "lens" through which the self-- as ultimate subject-- experiences the world. But everything is continuous on this map; it is a whole, one piece, one turning, a universe. Everything-- all experience-- is potentially object for the subject at the central point which, though no object itself, is contiguous with the rest.
While this subject is no more than an idealization, like a mathematical point, in practice some portion of the interior zones of the map are appropriated as "self". A sphere expands as the subject identifies with more and more of experience, and this is taken for the point. The map is egocentric, in that the subject identifies with this shell that constitutes a cognitive system (a mind-body), calling this "myself". Because it is extensional-- part of the relative world of space-time in opposition to other parts, there is the perception of being a separate individual, one mind-body among many. The subject identifies with the lens in opposition to the surrounding "external" world, which includes other cognitive systems.
To think: these thoughts are true, these feelings are true, these perceptions are true-- is to believe the veracity of the lens, to treat it as transparent. This means to fail to recognize the lens at all as object, implicitly mistaking it as subject. The identity of the self, which is actually an idealized dimensionless point, expands to engulf the lens which has a dimension and a boundary against the world beyond. The inflation of the ego parallels the inflation of the universe! When this shell of identity shrinks again to infinitesimal size or expands to include all existence, it again ceases to have a boundary. Then there is no opposition between subject and object, self and world. But there is little difference between identifying with nothing and identifying with everything. (As the sage Nisargadatta has said, "to realize one is nothing is wisdom; to realize one is everything is love"). Duality and opposition occur when we identify with some thing, in distinction to other things. This is the condition of relative existence, identified with a cognitive system, a body or playing piece in the game of life. It is not in itself the fact that the map is centered in a cognitive system which limits consciousness to the relative, but rather the fact of identifying with the portion of the map that is the cognitive system. It is thinking we are some one that makes the difference between relative and absolute consciousness.
Brutality presupposes considering subjects as objects. Objects are many, whereas when we consider the experience of the subject with empathy, we realize it is little different than our own. In that moment we may know there is only the subject, tasting experience through this or that body. The MBP is therefore the problem of separation-- of our apparent embodiment as distinct units of consciousness. It is the ancient problem of the many and the one. If there were but one object in the universe, there would be no object at all. The very concept of object refers to multiplicity, structure, separateness of distinct parts. Even so we have named the cosmos Universe, in consideration of our belief that all exists as a unity. Indeed our cosmology traces the history of the universe back to a beginning moment when there was but one object-- and therefore no objects at all. Billions of years later we are reminded of this original unity by the fact that all microscopic particles of a type are qualitatively identical. What distinguishes one proton from another is nothing marking it with individual traits, but only its location in space (measured with respect to other generic particles) and its level of energy (a function of the influence of other particles, and therefore of its location in space). The concept of individual identity of objects we are familiar with on the human scale does not apply to microphysics, where precise laws govern the emergence of complexity and the appearance of diversity from an essential sameness.
Of course, such laws exist in the macroscopic realm as well. There are laws governing the diversity of species and of individuals within the genotype. Our uniqueness as individuals is a strictly regulated feature of our sameness. After all, every creature that lives or ever lived on earth had a common ancestor. Truly they are "all our relations" in a family that co-evolved as a group effort. It is only because of and within the web of life as a whole that the human form has arisen. Similarly, it is only because of, and as a part of, the collective efforts of other people past and present that you and I can live today as individuals.
Unity and diversity interplay at every level of physical reality. As the study of objects, science ignores the subject in its discourse. Or rather, it acknowledges the subject as observer, with all observers held to be interchangeable. The observer is a strictly defined role, and any individual can potentially play that role. The perceptions of science are deemed objective because, as far as science is concerned, there is but one observer, one subject.
Perhaps our individuality in life is ultimately related to our fundamental interchangeability as subjects in a similar way. The difference between us, like the differences between observers, may be at the deepest level a function of separation in space and time. Like elementary particles, we are numerically distinct while identical in essence. We think of ourselves as separate because we identify with the distinct location in space of the body, and we think of ourselves as unique because we identify with the history of the body in time. At this level there appears to be great diversity of experience, circumstance, ability and character. Some people suffer incredible hardship while others are blessed with comfort and ease. But if we press deeply enough into subjectivity-- past individual histories of experience, into what it means to be consciousness itself-- the differences disappear with which one could lay claim to individual identity.
To be a particular self, an ego, is to have a special relationship to that part of the world that is one's own body. This has two aspects: particular dedicated channels of information (the hardware of nerves), and particular response patterns (software). Both concern one's own body in a different way than other bodies in the universe. One's identity is based wholly upon one's identification with the particular body that is "one's own". This relationship is not epistemically special, but physically and affectively special. I can know as much about the status of your body's tissue as I can about my own-- but through different channels, and with a different attitude towards it.
The sense of self-- of identity as "I"-- is an attitude or stance  rather than a function of being one person or body or another. This is so because the same distinction that is supposed to split the subject off within the field of experience, as a private inner domain, occurs within the subject itself. To observe one's experience is a different stance than believing it.
And the basic choice is whether to believe experience. Treating one's experience as real-- believing one's thoughts-- makes not only the world real but also the self. The same reifying tendency that naively considers the world real and external also makes substantial the contents of the subjective perspective that is supposed to mitigate that very tendency. It creates an identity and a self out of the contents of the subjective realm.
According to non-dual eastern philosophy, neither the universe nor the self are real. This is not, however, an ontological statement-- about what exists or doesn't exist-- so much as an injunction toward an attitude or relationship to experience. The key to spiritual liberation is refusing to implicitly believe one's own mind. This means suspending belief in the reality of the world and the self. And this is really a matter of holding experience in a certain light, whereby one is not committed to interpret it as experience of a real world, nor by a real self, but merely as an undesignated "something" passing through attention. Since "I" is the mind's theory about the activity of theorizing-- just as "reality" is the mind's theory about the contents it interprets, when the activity of interpreting is suspended "I" ceases to exist. When reality goes, so does the self. The liberated person is transparent. There is no self that is doing, but "all is done". There is no identification with experience or action. The subject disappears as a mediating window on the world and the object, in the usual sense, disappears also. What is considered real is no longer the objects or contents of experience, nor something to be acted upon, but the ultimate ground of being from which experience arises and which is also the ultimate cause of action.
Suppose a clone was made of you, identical down to the molecular level. In what sense would this copy be "you"? It seems obvious it would be conscious, would think and react emotionally exactly as you do, and would-- at the moment of creation-- have identical memories. It would be numerically different from you and otherwise qualitatively identical, but even mere numerical difference would give it henceforth a different experience. Even if it remained forever close by you-- like a siamese twin-- it would occupy at least a slightly different perspective. With the possibility to move about freely to the other side of the world, its experience could diverge greatly from yours. Its identity would come be that of someone very like you but clearly not you.
Suppose now that an identical clone is made of you, but in the process your body is destroyed . With the clone appearing instantly-- with all your thought, feelings and memories-- in place of the body that was yours, it now seems that there would be continuity between your consciousness and its, making it more plausible that the clone would actually "be" you. A variation of this would be teletransportation (a la Star Trek), where the clone appears at a different place and slightly different time, replacing the you that is here and now. There would presumably be a small interval in which you were discarnate, a message travelling across space. In the first case above, we say the clone is not you and in the present case we say it is you-- depending solely on whether the original survives! But how can the existence of another body affect your identification with this one?
In either case-- of teletransporting or of "regular" cloning-- it is assumed that the process of duplication is finite, that only a finite amount of information is required to define "you". The identity is therefore that of an artifice, a formal system. If reality-- even the reality of "you"-- is infinitely complex and unfathomable, then it is merely an "essence" of you that is duplicated in an incompletely perfect copy.
And what are we to make of the subjective sense of identity, experienced as "I"? Since I can recognize memories as my own, just as I can recognize this body as my own, my consciousness would appear seamlessly continuous if the cloning or teletransporting were near perfect. I might have the experience of waking up in someone else's body if the body seemed different or the memories were unfamiliar. Even so I could perhaps be convinced by others that I was merely suffering from amnesia and that I must really be who they insist I am. Merely waking up in a different place and time, but as my familiar self, would be assimilated as a lapse of memory or as evidence of teletransporting.
In the case where I survive the cloning (so that there are two of us), my clone would surely have his own sense of "I", belonging to his numerically distinct body, even though-- from my point of view, at least-- we shared the same qualitative identity at the moment of his inception. Since that moment-- including his present interaction with me-- he has been free to create an identity of his own through experience diverging from mine. We each continue with a distinct sense of "I" and now a separate identity as well. Moreover, he could argue, as convincingly as I could, that it is I who am the copy-- that is, my memories of childhood, of his cloning, etc., are false, rather than his!
In the case where I don't survive, my absence would not affect my clone's claim to selfhood. But it would affect his identity, at least in the view of others who might be inclined to say that he is me-- or that there is but one person who was teletransported or cellularly renewed through cloning. His identity is a public fact with which he would be forced to agree.
It seems then that the subjective sense of "I" is a different matter than identity-- the particulars of what sort of person one is, with what history-- which is a matter of public record, as accessible to others as to oneself. Memories of which identity consists may be viewed as private experiences, but they are memories of events in the world. What differentiates me as an individual is a collection of events, a history. But the experience of a numerically distinct "I" could consist of (very nearly) those same events, creating very nearly the same identity. All that could render a distinct subjective sense of "I" would ultimately be our numerical difference. The sense of "I" cannot have a content, because that would be a phenomenal event, part of identity. What then could it be if not the sheer awareness of awareness?
We have looked abstractly at the game as a formal structure, an ordering process for play, deliberately leaving out the competitive aspect. Now let's consider what it means to play with other players, since this is our experience in life.
To view the game as a formalism is to see it as a whole, with detachment, from the outside. To view the game from the inside is to adopt a single point of view, to identify with the interests of a particular playing piece in competition with others. In the game of life I believe myself to be this body, not that one, and certainly not all bodies. I agree to enter the game by becoming not only a player but a playing piece, and I become such by agreeing to the game. It is a process of incarnation-- in a windowless prosthetic body, a complete virtual reality device mediating my interaction with what I believe is a world "outside". The X-Man becomes his exoskeletal space suit. To have a body is to take on the point of view, the purposes and values, the judgments of an organism-- a discrete playing piece in the game of life. Before incarnating I am free to look upon the game as a curiosity, perhaps a beautifully intricate structure, of which "my" body is merely an integral part. This is the consciousness reported by people who have near-death experiences of serene detachment from the physical body, and also of those sages who have "lost the self" while still living in the body. Once incarnated, I forfeit this freedom by becoming, for all practical purposes, the body. The "before" and "once" here refer to logical priority and consequence, not to time. Incarnation is a relationship of the subject to experience. But the subject is a point of view, not an entity. I believe the notion of the transmigration of souls (reincarnation) is a misinterpretation of the timeless logical relationship of subject to object-- another symptom of the MBP.
There is a particular type of consciousness associated with the body, that has to do with adopting its point of view and interests as a player in the game of survival. The name given to this consciousness, in various spiritual traditions, is ego. The sense is different than in western psychology, where the ego is considered the part of the individual psyche whose job it is to juggle the internal demands of the organism with those of the socially constructed conscience and those of the environment. In other words, in western psychology the ego is part of the plumbing of a human being, who is already assumed to be a body. But we are using ego to mean a set of beliefs or premises about (experiences of) the existence and importance of the body and the material world that is its playing field. The ego is the sense of particularity, separateness and self-centeredness that come with identifying with the playing piece and its priorities within the game. Above all it is the unconscious choice to see oneself as a body, and as the personality or psyche that is an extension of that body and a product of its history. It is to accept the body and all its concerns, along with the material world of which it is an inseparable part, as real. The ego, in other words, is the belief in the reality of the game itself, and all that implies.
Well, what does it imply? First of all, separateness. If I take the game seriously (which by definition one does in the game of life), then I am pursuing my body's particular interests. As a disembodied observer outside the game, one would have no interests within the game (interests may lie elsewhere), no reason to be partial to one player or outcome over another, and the game itself might seem meaningless. All this changes once one enters the game. One is then competing against the other players and/or against the game itself. I am then a separate self-centered concern as my attention becomes focussed on the actions of playing, on the needs of my body, and on me winning instead of you. In a zero-sum game, if I win you must lose-- which definitely underlines my belief that I am not you! If we are bodies, then of course I cannot be you. As bodies, we must be separate and opposed, because bodies are separate in space and opposed in interest.
The second point involves this focussing. Ego consciousness is narrowed and constricted to the setting and pursuit of goals-- to playing the game. It is about problem solving and doing the things defined in the game. In the logic of the game of life, identifying with my own interests has survival value, and makes going after what "I need" an unquestioned matter of common sense. Within the ego's purview-- that is, within the confines of the game-- it is hard to imagine anything else. The ego tends to crowd out any other state of consciousness, such as just being, or any other goals than the off-the-shelf ones.
We began with the notion that "realness" is a quality with which experience is imbued by the mind. The mind we are talking about is the ego. It can only look outward to a reality it experiences as external and separate from itself. Since all that exists for it is what is defined in the game, its attention is glued to the world of the game, which it is committed to experiencing as real. It only believes in the reality of what it perceives as not itself. Consequently, it can only see what is inside itself by projecting it outward. So, the third point is that ego has the nasty habit of disowning responsibility through projection. Believing that the world "out there" holds all the cards-- it sees itself never as actor but only as reactor. It has given up its identity as a free agent and sees its role as victim. A victim can only blame. And in the blaming game, attack will be met by counterattack from other players believing themselves victims.
Ego believes that good and bad lie out there with other players because, as a fictional playing piece in an imaginary game, it really has no substance of its own. (Of course, the other players and the whole game itself have no substance either, but they seem to, for the game is predicated on accepting illusory goals as real). The ego aims to wrest from other players their imaginary treasures, and to get them to accept responsibility for having and withholding what it believes it lacks. Of course they cannot do this, for they are just as insubstantial.
If the ego is but an empty shell in a shell game that is itself an empty form, where is reality? We have seen that the ego's sense of reality comes from embracing the terms of a game. Ironically, it is this very sense of reality that is illusion-- what the Easterners call maya or samsara. In itself, from an absolute point of view, the game is an arbitrary and meaningless recreation, an exercise of inventive imagination, neither here nor there. All the importance we attach to it is something we make up. Then the ego must also be imaginary, along with all its hopes and fears, preoccupations and reactiveness. Where does that leave us? Who indeed are we? Do we have some identity that is not ego?
In the gaming metaphor, a player "poofs" into the world and body of a playing piece, provisionally forfeiting his true identity as a player with his own larger reality. This true identity does not cease during his hallucinatory sojourn as a playing piece, nor does reality. The illusory experience in the game is like a dream, from which he does or does not eventually wake up. If we do have such a true identity, we hardly know it in sleep. We are in the dream trying to remember the waking state, in the game trying to recall and describe the real in terms of the illusory.
Ego cannot know what is not itself. The intellect cannot grasp and contain that which by definition is beyond it. It must be content with mere names and metaphors, and the knowledge of its own limitations. God is a name that has been given our true identity, also: Self, Spirit, Great Spirit, Higher Self, Divine Essence, Allah, Tao, etc. In the dream (the game) we imagine ourselves separate-- not only from each other but from this true identity-- because we appear embodied either physically or at some other level of being (e.g. the individual soul). We imagine God the same way: as an omnipotent individual soul. In our true identity, we are simply the Dreamer dreaming itself to be awake in many bodies with many apparently differing experiences. Ego is the aspect of the dream that is an active player within it, that appears to perceive substance and analyse structure, see multiplicity and differences, compare and evaluate, judge and reject. (Even in approving it rejects, because its acceptance is conditional).
It is said that God is love. "Love", of course, is not romance or need or pity, but the Dreamer recognizing itself as the "other" in the Dream. This is why the heart can understand what ego cannot: that others are not our adversaries in a world of scarcity, but mirrors reflecting aspects of our self. From the point of view of love there are no others.
So, ours is like the consciousness of a player who is anxiously engrossed in the game most of the time, and only occasionally at peace in her true identity. On the verge of awakening, we have dual citizenship, struggling with a double identity, a split personality. All other struggles are but reflections of this one-- and often distractions from it!
We can know the difference between these two states, as inner experience. But it would be a mistake to view them as compartments of the self, somehow on an equal footing. It may be impossible to understand God intellectually, for who is it that wants to know? Isn't it ego-- who would presume to stand outside and incorporate both possibilities as parts of itself, see the Absolute contained and expressed within its own terms? Understanding can be just another power play in the game. So, when I experience the struggle, between ego and "higher self", this is really expressed within ego's thought system. Struggle is what ego is good at, and it can never know anything else. Whether we conceive of God as a subpersonality, or as an Old Man in the Sky, in either case this is ego's defence against the reality of the Absolute as that which is interior to all experience and prior to all concept, the Subject for all objects of consciousness, the essence of what we ourselves are.
In many religious traditions there is a spiritual nemesis to God. Where God is the principle of go(o)d, the (D)evil is the principle of evil. We can suspect the ego as the originator of such dualistic conceptions, for it is its job to judge benefit and detriment to the organism. According to this thinking, God personifies what is good for the individual or collective, the Devil what is bad. Because ego knows only the realm of objects, and all experience is inherently experience of the world, ego objectifies both good and evil, projecting it into the world. (It is a relief to ego to know that, just as I cannot possibly be God, so I cannot be the Devil!). Ego cannot tolerate evil in its own house, but must disown its judgments as out there. Just as my interests (or those of my group) are good by definition, the others and their interests are potentially evil.
Serious spiritual aspirants must go beyond such dualistic thinking-- i.e. beyond ego. The very goal of the spiritual quest is to transcend the body-mind to discover one's true identity. It involves a shift away from preoccupation with the contents and meaning of experience. This preoccupation is based on ego's presumed right to judge experience. But the pure subject does not judge and is not a content of experience. Finding one's true identity entails relinquishing identification with the mentality of ego. It means outgrowing a concept of God as "out there" and a concept of self as a substantial and separate soul. Along with this has to go all morality based on commandments-- which are ultimately the dictates of reality as conceived by ego. Ego views God in very childish terms, as a worldly ruler. A truer ethic is possible, based on heartfelt understanding of one's true identity.
Ego, however, does not particularly want to be unseated from its command post, and correctly views this quest as a threat to its existence. Its resistance can be enormous and very clever. In fact, ego will do anything to keep its position which, like that of the Wizard of Oz, is tenuously maintained with mirrors. Specifically, it is committed to sustaining the illusion of a separate existence, as a body opposed to other bodies in the game of survival, which seeks control of the world (and hence of others) in order to regulate its experience within acceptable bounds. Like any tyrant, it justifies an iron hand in its own house in order to secure its campaign in the world. Stories of actual tyrants over the ages merely reflect the qualities of ego as self-centered, self-serving, self-indulgent, greedy, ruthless, brutal, heartless, cunning, malicious, underhanded, manipulating, power-hungy, haughty, etc.-- in short, the very profile of evil. The evil of the world is ego unchecked by forces such as nature, other egos, social convention, law, conscience, love, understanding, spirituality, etc.
The Devil, as evil personified, is a negative portrait of ego (just as God is a personification of the good qualities of ego). Possession by the Devil is an apt metaphor to characterize the rule of ego as usurper in the house of being. Perhaps it is more than metaphor-- cases of demonic possession signifying the breakthrough of ego into uninhibited megalomania. Normally kept within "socially acceptable bounds", these bounds are themselves ego's creations in its compromise with the forces that would limit it. Ego creates and rules this world, and is not about to give up its position without a fight. Hence the stories of temptation of Jesus, Buddha and other saints. As surrender (to one's true identity) is approached, ego fights back with all its weapons, tailored to its intimate knowledge of the weakness of the individual. For Jesus, ego was experienced as Satan, the fallen angel. For Buddha it was the Architect of Illusion, understood to be his own mind.
One of the most insidious of ego's weapons is the sense of reality entrusted to mind. We tend to be at the mercy of our thoughts, perceptions and feelings. Another is ego's chameleon-like adaptability, its hypnotic skill at playing any game so well that the fact that it is a game is forgotten, its clever ability to appropriate everything to itself, turn everything to its own advantage, impersonate anything. All these have been characterized in literature as attributes of the Devil. Even from a modern (ego-psychological) point of view, possession can be viewed as an impersonation of the true self.
Ego is subtle enough to pose as the Devil in order to mask its real identity. The same mentality that pretends God is an alien if good spirit up there also holds the Devil to be His alien if malevolent nemesis down there. This projection allows ego to continue business as usual, essentially unaffected by squabbles between them. Thus ego protects its territory by keeping identity unquestioned. By flooding the stillness of the inner landscape with its own activity, it preserves its jurisdiction. In truth, ironically, the Devil abhors idle hands.
"Dogma" is "am God" spelled backwards. It is ego's backwards way of understanding spiritual truth. Ego is addicted to the game of life, engrossed in the logic of survival. Being dedicated to its own survival, ego does not want to give up its power, its claim to the identity of the player. To ego, eternal peace is a bore. It approaches attempts of the player to awaken from the dream of the game as threats to its survival, and counters these by recycling them as mere moves within the game, as further sequences in the dream. The greater reality of the player is reinterpreted in the ego's thought system, seen through the warped lens of the dream. Through this compromise, the dream continues, the game goes on, and ego keeps its seat of power.
The world of the game is external and literal. Every event must be perceived as a legal move on the playing field, within the definitions and rules of the game. Nothing is allowable which does not fit within its terms. There is therefore a great deal of distortion when something from outside the game is redefined as an element within it. The internal is externalised, the spiritual is materialised, the abstract is literalized-- by a process of reinterpreting experience through images familiar within the game. For instance, in trying to understand something of the "structure" of Being through the concept of the Trinity, Christians have familiarised the relationship between parts of this structure through the metaphor of the father-son relationship (leaving aside the Holy Spirit and the mother-son relationship). Of course, Being ultimately has no structure, but this has not prevented it from being thoroughly externalized and objectified by mind. God is seen as the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Jesus is seen in orthodox dogma as his only child. Not because we are inseparably one with him and with each other (so that by definition there can only be one "son"), but precisely the contrary-- because we are all self-contained "souls" and ego wants to keep it that way! God and Jesus may be one, but we are separate from them as well as from each other. It is clear that, according to ego's conceptions, we cannot be God's creations and yet be of the same nature as God. Rather, we must be as distinct as the clay is from the potter. God is seen, through ego's eyes, as an intimidating Superplayer, the King of Monopoly. Jesus is the Ultimate Community Chest Card. The payoff for such mad conceptualising is that ego gets to continue unchallenged. All we have to do to be "saved" is to "believe". No essential change is required, only some mental gymnastics-- nothing that cannot be accommodated within the framework of ordinary life and relationships (for instance, the social event of going to church). We do not have to wake up, for the ego has made God just another character in our dream. The promise of salvation and the threat of damnation are just a prize and a hazard in the same old game.
It is no different in other religions because all dogma is made by ego. Awakened players come into the world of the game from time to time to unveil the truth of our identity, and cause a stirring toward wakefulness for a while. But eventually the momentum of "the world" (that is, the ego) overgrows their message, distorting it into a new feature of the game-- just as a person disturbed in their sleep will dream of some disturbance but continue their fitful slumber. The message becomes veiled again in dogma, twisted into the compromise that a dream represents between wakefulness and sleep. Then new prophets comes forth to repeat the cycle.
Mind aims at the world, which it believes objectively real. Because it sometimes misses, we acknowledge the category of the subjective. But what if there is no reality but that which we impute to experience? What if fundamentally we are left alone with the intention of our aiming, and any apparent target is but some unfolding implication of that intending?
We have already seen that the world-in-itself is unknowable-- by definition untouched by mind-- whereas knowledge, conception, and even perception are the very activities of mind. What can be said about the world-in-itself must be spoken in the language of mathematics. Since there is nothing that can be said about it in the language of experience (or in conceptual domains based upon experience) except that it must exist, the world-in-itself is but a place-holder, to remind us of the fundamental limit and context of mind. Chaos, Void, the Tao are some of its names. Zero is its counterpart in arithmetic, vacuum in physics. Buddhists speak of emptiness, existentialists of nothingness.
Our basic physical experience of space is that it is filled with objects which it separates. Object but no space (the plenum), and space but no object (the vacuum), are logically the same. The essence of physical reality, and therefore the preoccupation of mind, is an inhomogenous world of separation, multiplicity, difference, contrast and change. Where these are not found, or not found sufficiently, our experience is boredom.
Boredom is the mind's rejection of emptiness. But if emptiness is the true nature of reality (even of physical reality), then boredom is the insistence on something which is not real. If what is abidingly real is a stillness without moving parts, then the mind's preoccupation with the mechanics of life is illusory, and its inability to sit still pathological.
What would be a positive experience of emptiness? Though attractive, the idea is subtly paradoxical, for all that mind is conditioned to recognize as experience is a content-- a something-- rather than the nothing of emptiness. Perhaps emptiness cannot be experienced so much as allowed for. We can allow that it is veritable, though transcendent and inaccessible because of the very nature of mind. We can enjoy the blissful experience of turning towards it, but even this is a content, and therefore not "it". Emptiness is another name for the unknowable, the inscrutable world-in-itself, the off-limits for mind.
The picture of reality painted by modern physics is of an insubstantial world. Most of what we consider solid objects consist overwhelmingly of space between elementary particles-- for instance the space between the nucleus of an atom and the vibrating "shell" of electrons. Because even the nucleus itself can be collapsed into a much smaller volume-- perhaps indefinitely-- it consists also of apparently nothing! In outer space, too, the picture is of relatively little content dispersed in vast reaches of empty space. But is space-- the vacuum-- truly empty? To refer again to modern physics, the picture is that space is not empty, but itself seething with potential energy. New particles can appear out of nothing but the energy of space. While matter is essentially vacuum, the vacuum is actually a plenum!
This aspect of physical reality has its parallel
in subjective experience. We can know the insubstantiality of perception
and thought as mental constructs, as subjective illusion. We can know the
truth of the emptiness of our concerns, and of all the movements of mind,
of all thoughts including emotion. And far from being distraught because
of it, we can also know the seething energy underlying this emptiness and
filling the stillness of mind. And finally, then, we can rest in the knowledge
that this energy-- even if it be ultimately nothing-- is what we truly
APPENDIX to Section 17 (Coloring it Real )
The retinal blind spot is a small region in the visual field corresponding to the area on the retina where the receptor nerves are bundled to form the optic fiber, thus excluding the presence of receptors themselves. This hole in the visual field is simply ignored by the mind. Indeed, awareness of it would be redundant and a nuisance, since the blind spot is standard equipment in every healthy eye. However, destructive lesions in the retina or optic nerve give rise to an actual experience of a blank area in the visual field. It makes sense that the abnormal condition of lesion at this primary level must be noticeable, since it could represent an absence of light in the real world. It is the job of the retina to pass on this information to the cortex, which is able to adapt with time to such lower-level injuries. Lesions in the visual cortex itself can cause similar defects in sensitivity without ever being perceived. The patient may deduce the presence of a defect, but is unable to see it directly since, so to speak, there is no one higher up to countermand the orders of the cortex.
Neurophysiologist Karl Lashley noted that the transitory scotoma he experienced due to migraines were filled in under certain conditions. Specifically, when he gazed at checkerboard patterns, or other regular patterns of wallpaper, these appeared subjectively completed over the missing parts of his visual field.
A person dressed in a black costume, so as to be invisible in the dark room, except for small white dots strategically placed at the body's joints, is seen only as a pattern of dots until the person begins to move. Then the invisible outline of the human form appears subjectively as a moving shadowy figure. The tribulations of proofreaders also demonstrate a form of pattern completion, since there is a tendency for errors to be seen as correct in their context. And short deletions in the spoken word may also go unnoticed, the normal flow of the sentence being subjectively assumed.
Phenomena of apparent change are further examples. One of these is the characteristic of human vision responsible for the ability to see a motion picture as a continuous changing image rather than a series of distinct stills. When a spot of light is briefly flashed against a darker background, followed within a specific interval by a similar spot flashed a short distance away, the subjective effect is of one spot moving from the first position to the second. If the time interval is shorter, two simultaneous flashes are perceived; if longer, two successive flashes. This is the deceptively familiar principle of the "moving" lights of the illuminated marquee. Such effects raise an interesting question: how does the mind know where the next spot will occur, in order to fill in between the two? One investigator has speculated that the intervening apparent motion is projected backward in time. Other kinds of apparent changes include transformations of size and shape. For instance, if instead of a dot a square is flashed, followed by a triangle and a circle, what will be seen is one figure changing into another in a smooth transition from square to circle.
The projection of experience backward in time is implied by other experimental evidence as well. The paradox of habituation is demonstrated, for instance, by the familiar experience of becoming accustomed to a sound, so that it is only noticed when it stops. Neurologically, an orienting response in the pattern of brainwaves begins when the habituated signal ends. One's attention is suddenly drawn to the "deafening silence". Similarly, the phenomenon of backward masking indicates that awareness of a brief, near-threshold visual stimulation can be obliterated by another, longer stimulus occurring shortly afterward. Other experiments compare the timing of experiences due to stimulation of the skin, with that of similar experiences due to direct stimulation of the part of the cortex receiving impulses from the skin. These demonstrate that the skin stimulus is subjectively referred backward in time about half a second-- presumably to compensate the time it takes for the nerve impulse to reach the cortex from the sensory surface. Strictly speaking, it seems that sensations are always replays of past events, for which we nevertheless have the subjective sense of real-time participation.
Sensations of vision and hearing are projected outward in space as characteristics of objects in an external world. This capacity of spatial projection can be acquired by the skin surfaces as well. Such projection is an everyday tactile experience. Anyone who has had to loosen a screw in a visually inaccessible place is familiar with the extension of one's sensitivity of touch to the tip of the screwdriver. No doubt blind people experience the tapping of their canes as out there more than as sensations in the hand.
Daniel Dennett  has criticized the interpretation of a range of completion effects that are by now quite familiar. I believe his point is well-taken, that the apparent experience of completion in the visual field is in truth a (mis)judgment-- something like seeing a snake when there is actually a rope-- rather than a veridical perception of some sensory quality supplied by the mind with some kind of existence. It is the projective capacity of the mind (the ability to even make such mistakes) that I wish to underline with these examples.
The projective adaptability of the brain has been dramatically studied by a type of experiment first performed around the turn of the century and subsequently repeated in several variations. First let us note that in normal vision the optical image on the retina is upside down, since it is inverted by the lens of the eye. In other words, the brain normally adapts itself to this inversion, so that the world is subjectively experienced rightside up. What would happen if the optical image itself were re-inverted? In the experiment performed, a subject wore a special lens over each eye which inverted the retinal image-- and therefore inverted the subjectively experienced visual field. Needless to say, this resulted in a very disorienting experience. Over several days, however, the subject was able to adapt to this condition-- if not perfectly and consistently-- so as to experience the world once more as normal and right-side up! Though the results of this drastic experiment were equivocal, less extreme distortions of the visual field have proven conclusively the adaptability of the human visual cortex. The effects of lenses which systematically curve the visual field, of prisms which displace it by a few degrees to one side or the other, and of special glasses which color half the visual field red and half green, have all been compensated after a few days or even hours of getting used to them, so that normal experience is restored. In one instance, where prismatic spectacles were worn that displace the visual input by a few degrees, subjects would at first consistently misreach for objects about them. But after only one hour of actively walking about, the subjects completely and exactly compensated the displacement. When the subject was passively moved about the same environment in a wheel chair, little compensation took place. This suggests that we do not see the world as passively presented by the senses, but rather as we come to know it through active interaction. We are reminded of the homunculus who, solely through interaction with changes on his display panels, pieces together a functional knowledge of an outside world-- a knowledge which is experienced as seeing. Just as the spectacled subjects in these experiments learn to see in their retinal displays the world implied through their active explorations, the little man comes to see, in the patterns of his instrument readings, a real external realm.
Not every creature has such adaptive flexibility.
If the eyes of the goldfish are surgically inverted, it never manages to
compensate for this disruption, always swimming away from the true location
of its food. Experiments similar to those described with human subjects
were performed with monkeys suffering from various cerebral lesions. Frontal
lobotomy effectively prevented the hapless creatures from compensating
a displaced visual input, whereas other cortical removals did not. Apparently,
the adaptivity concerned in such experiments is a high-level function of
the most complex nervous systems. This suggests that the very experience
of reality, of the world, is the result of the same order of high-level
activity as the experience of self. Subject and object rise and fall together.
1. Leibniz The Monodology, sec. 17, from Philosophical Classics ed. by W. Kaufmann, Prentice-Hall 1961, p227-8
2. Experiments of von Bekesy, cited in Karl Pribram Languages of the Brain Prentice-Hall 1971 p167-71
3. Plato The Republic,VII 514, transl. by Francis M. Cornford, Oxford UP 1945 p227-8
4. A.J. Ayer The Problem of Knowledge, Penguin 1956, p37 (quoting an analogy of Ryle's)
5. Plato op cit p229
6. Gordon R. Taylor The Natural History of the Mind Secker & Warburg 1979 p193-5
7. Robert Rosen Life Itself Columbia UP 1991, p47-8
8. Sigmund Freud "Formulations Regarding the Two Principles of Mental Functioning" (1911), sec. 4, in A General Selection of the Works of Sigmund Freud ed. by John Rickman, Liveright 1957, p43
9. In the same vein, 'This sentence is not green' could be "formally" expanded as "'This sentence is not green' is green"-- in contrast to its unrelativized expansion as "'This sentence is not green' is true". The statement is subjectified or relativized when the predicate ("greening") replaces the truth function, so that the sentence does not refer beyond its own terms (i.e. to a larger world in which it could be true or false).
10. David Hume An Enquiry into Human Understanding, sec. 7 part 1, in Kaufmann op cit p352-3
11. Fred Dretske "Misrepresentation" in Mind and Cognition, p130
12. Claude Jumarie Synthese pour une Cybernetique Relativiste Montreal 1980, p56-58
13. Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela Autopoeisis and Cognition D. Reidel 1980. I owe much to this seminal work, including the concept of cognitive domain elaborated in section 16.
14. John Searle The Rediscovery of the Mind 1992, p84 Searle contrasts pain as something which ought not to be treated in the same way as the sensation of heat (which clearly betokens the action of radiation or kinetic energy of molecules) because in the case of pain he is interested in the affect itself (he calls it the "appearance", and confesses [p126] to be suffering from back pain, which apparently is not traceable to an injury and therefore lacks a referent).
15. Hiram Caton The Origins of Subjectivity: an Essay on Descartes Yale UP 1973, p87-8
16. Humberto Maturana "Cognitive Function in Particular", p26, in Maturana and Varela op cit
17. Xenophanes in Kaufmann op cit, vol 1, p16
18. Maturana and Varela op cit
19. Thomas Nagel "What it is like to be a bat" in Mortal Questions, Cambridge UP 1979, p167
20. cf. Frank Jackson "Epiphenomenal Qualia" in Mind and Cognition, p474
21. Bernard J. Baars "Conscious Contents Provide the Nervous System with Coherent, Global Information" in Consciousness and Self-Regulation vol 3, ed. by R.J. Davidson et. al., Plenum Press 1983
22. David Chalmers The Conscious Mind, Oxford UP 1996, p156
23. R. Rosen op cit
24. Vernor Vinge "Technological Singularity" Whole Earth Review #81, Winter 1993, p88ff. The term "singularity" was used earlier by Von Neuman in regard to runaway technology.
25. Eric Drexler Engines of Creation Anchor/Doubleday 1986
26. Maturana and Varela op cit
27. Desmond Morris The Naked Ape andThe Human Zoo
28. John Searle, Intentionality 1983, p262-3
29. cf. Daniel Dennett The Intentional Stance reprinted 1989
30. D. Parfitt Reasons and Persons, 1984
31. cf. G.R. Taylor op cit p209: the experience of the pioneer psychologist Kenneth Craik who (deliberately) burned a hole in his retina through exposure to the sun. He reported two days later that the missing part of the visual field was subjectively filled in.
32. Annecdote reported by H.L. Teuber in Brain and Conscious Experience ed. by John Eccles 1966, p193
33. Keith Oatley Perceptions and Representations Methuen 1978, p3-4 and 190-1
34. Nelson Goodman Ways of Worldmaking Hackett 1978, p72ff (discussing Paul Koler's experiments in Aspects of Motion Perception Pergamon 1972)
36. Karl Pribram op cit p256
37. Eccles (ed.) op cit p175
38. Eric Harth Windows on the Mind p199-202
39. Daniel Dennett Consciousness Explained 1991
40. Early experiments of Stratton, embellished by others in several