on evolution and evolutionary reality (me and you)

Archive for May, 2016

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Big Question #6: What is the nature of mind?

 

“Cogito ergo sum”  (I think, therefore I am). – René Descartes

“I participate, therefore  I am” – Jeremy Rifkin, Empathic Civilisation

“Life is making sense”  – Francisco Varela

Subquestions and everyday relevance:

  • Your mind, what is it actually?
  • Who are you?
  • Is it true, what you see?
  • Can we know reality?
  • Is it brain or heart or both or neither?
  • The mind, the self and the soul, which is which and who is in charge?
  • Can one improve?, Can one forget? What do you regret and what can be done about it?

How to work on the answer to the Question #6:

Even if you are a neuroscientist or a shaman you do not know the answer. Even the question itself is new for us humans. The critical thinking and especially reflective thinking is the latest evolutionary addition to our brain’s toolbox. So, as Dr.Guo would say, don’t get too excited, any thoughts on this subject, if original and yours, would be precious and interesting. (I am, for example, always mad at myself. I am trying to change, to improve. Maybe it is all in the genes, or because of the difficult childhood. I think I need to meditate more.)

An example from philozophy.com:

From ‘Richard The Lion Heart’: “The mind is the real you. It is the ghost in the shell, the soul, the conscious thinking eternal energy that experiences and retains.”
View more answers on philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

This is a great area to work for all of us who feel like we’ve got the short of the stick. Excellent for a victim attitude, regrets, and blaming. This work will help with looking  at your problems from outside, as an observer.

An Essay

I am interested in human intelligence as it evolved from the animal intelligence. What are our abilities and our constraints? Looking into the past, into the nature of our world, who did what?  Which part is done by animals: colors, for sure?  Fear and pleasure, certainly? But reality??

It seems that the objective world is just the evolutionary construct of the subjective experiences of our ancestors. How far back this construct reaches?  It reaches further and further back, as our understanding broadens, our science reaches deeper into cosmos and time and consciousness.

This all can be interesting, but “so, what?” It seems that I have got entangled into mind/body jargon.

Let’s see what somebody else would say about the nature of mind.

I am talking to Lawrence Mathis King, author of “Opinion on first principles”, a philosopher, a painter and an architect.

Me: Lawrence, I want to start our conversation with the general lay-out of the inquiry, so to speak, what comes to mind when we question the nature of mind?

LMK: First thing that comes to me is the metaphor – the concept of the mind is like the concept of the water for the fish. The fish doesn’t see it, it’s a part of her of her medium, her nature. Unless there is a turbulence in the water, it is invisible. If you do not look into water you have the depth of vision, but if you concentrate on the water itself, you are suddenly surrounded by the opaque fluid which doesn’t allow you to see through it. The same is with the mind, if you say that it is “trillions of synaptic interactions” biochemical and electrical and leave it at that you put yourself in the corner, madly, because you leaving no room for “the water”, the blind spot.  The mind , I think is much more , beyond the matter of the brain, any substances of the body, is much more shared.

Me: Shared? with whom?

LMK: Shared with all humans, all creatures, all beings even all environment.

Me: You mean the sharing developed by the eons of the evolutionary process?

LMK: I think the evolution is very slow, it makes all the organisms related, yes.  But more importantly I am thinking about the fact that everything affects everything. the connection, the sudden leap in understanding can happen by intuition, the insight, revelation.  Also by the necessity, the danger, the survival- when you run out of food – the unthinkable become possible. When the construct become a narrative, it actually works with environment and it sculpts the story, the outcome. The things, like the jump of faith,  irrelevant yesterday become relevant, even important today.

Me: Your language, the concept of constructs, narratives and relevances, you give new meaning to these terms. I like it, you get some traction in an area that has nothing but the philosophical jargon.

LMK: The questions we ask, about mind , cognition, reality, we have to bring our own language, very private and intuitive. this is a creative process, everyday language is different, most often can not raise to the occasion. I decided to use my own formal language and my terms and defend it as best as I could, but not to yield to the urge to make it “easy”.  I thought: ” to hell with it, it is like going to the concert of classical music- one has to prepare for that way of expression, not the easy way”.  For example- the narrative is the verb for the construct-it is created by necessity and it might become relevant. As, like a little creature living happily on the lily pad, then one day it crawls to the edge and the big pond and everything is suddenly, “uh,uh,” not very lily-paddish. A new relevance, new construct is created- the old language just would not do- needs to search for the new thing.

Me: How do you understand constructs and their origins? You imply that when you try to understand the world and the nature of mind, the constructs are not only useful but crucial terms to connect these two.

LMK: I think the constructs are necessity of consciousness .

Me: Explain this please!

LMK: When you are a conscious being, what the consciousness mean that you are looking at the world through an aperture, through your senses, the sight, the sound touch, etc, through your intellectual ability, your memories. The consciousness is much more than that, but it is a starting place. You get a tiny glimpse of the great spectrum of reality. S o you go back to your lily pad where things make sense locally. You see these past experiences which are relevant and this became the structure- you create or use old- constructs. if you are blind the colors are irrelevant( until somebody invents brain waves to transmit colors to the blind). Constructs are inevitable parts or results of the situation of consciousness. they arise spontaneously, by necessity to interpret the world we see through this aperture. Then, what you do, from the present you extend these constructs through the time and space.  If you travel, the snow storm in the distant city messes your flight schedule, suddenly it become relevant to you.

Me: Your philosophy, like for Husserl was, is a mixture of the content and the method. Like him you use old words in new way, like him you are trying to figure out the relationship between self, the perception and the environment. Trying to explain this to yourself and share with us this explanation of the reality and social structures.

LMK: Social structures are shared via language.  Being “gifted with the present”  we use the language to communicate with other, very imperfectly. It is why I love to be around the animals. their language, their communication is so direct, unequivocal, not affected by time and space, so immediate.

Back to humans, our social constructs are very important, there are millions of them. For me they emphasize the unity of consciousness. through them we realize our interdependence, , co-thinking, co-creating, co-being.. On the good day it tell us  that our similarities are so much bigger than the differences.  We feel our oneness down to the atomic levels , from here to the edge of the universe, I believe that the consciousness extends to all organism and to the inanimate objects too.  On the bad day, these constructs, this interdependence can be so powerfully destructive- dangerous to our very existence, to the existence of humanity. So, this necessity of other, the social structure of our world is a double, more than double, many edges sword. It brings all goods…

Me: if we do not behave like a animals.. or worse

LMK: much worse.

Me: You wrote your book, you tackled many big questions, about our humanity, structure of mind , of reality, you did something similar to writing your worldview.  It is what this manual is about- write your thing down, show that you are not scared or embarassed, show you level of freedom. Did it work for you?

LMK: Yes, it helped a lot.  What I wrote is very satisfying, regardless what other people think about it, if they read it , etc, etc. I have more peace, I obsess less…

Me: Now, I encourage my readers to treat it as a work in progress, to come back to it, edit it, make it more “mine”.

LMK : Maybe, maybe I’d return, but now I am more free to do other things, like return to painting.

Me: Thank you Lawrence, any conclusions ?

LMK: No, thank you for doing this work, it is important and relevant.

Me: Now all we  need is to the world to catch up.

Suggested Readings:

Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a bat?” The Philosophical Review 1974
book 2

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Big Question #5: Is there free will?

“You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have the right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.”- Desiderata

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • Do you have free will?
  • How should we act? Praxeology (theory of actions)
  • Are we really free, or just feel like free? What is freedom? To do what?
  • Are you an optimist or pessimist? Do you believe your choices matter? How about your actions?
  • Do you support social activism, are you an activist, if not, why not? 
  • Do you think the public opinions are manipulated, is it a conspiracy or “normal” behavior?
  • What do you think about social engineering?
  • Is publishing your Worldview on the Internet an act of freedom?

How to work on the answer to the Question #5

This question can call for some deep and pompous philosophy or can be simple and intimate. If you make any plans and projects whatsoever, you have to answer this question first. If you are going to get up from the bed tomorrow morning, you have to answer this question first.

Notice that the fact that you are answering this question is actually kind of answer.

View answers on Philozophy.com

An example by Peter Brown: “Yes. Small but useful in the right place. Think fulcrum.”

Psychotherapy

Working on this question improves mood. It helps people be more grounded and positive about their plans. Even finding of constraints in one’s freedom make one’s realize how much freedom he or she has. It helps with finding a meaning of life.

The interview with Dr. Tamara Welsh.

Me: I would like to talk to you about the free will and freedom. These concepts are obviously related: free will seems to be more philosophical, while freedom -personal and political….

Dr. Talia:  I belong to traditions of existentialism and phenomenology. During the last two decades when I’ve been doing philosophy I come to the conclusion that the free will is pretty limited. Most of our choices have origins in our habits. For example, an alcoholic can refrain himself from the drink now, but over the time we will see the pattern typical for the problems with drinking. Still, I think, that there is something like freedom or free will and this can be related to the worldview.

     In the moment when we do not make these choices, like voting or not voting for somebody, there is a place for a reflective assessment of ourselves. In this retrospective mood we can think, what kind of person I want to be, and I think, one has some control over creating certain esthetics and striving toward this kind of person, and in so doing, working on what one potentially can consider bad habits or good habits, and so by and by you become this kind of person that habitually will live that kind of life you ideally would like to live. But I do not think it is a momentary decision, that’s sort of larger, you can call worldview or personal view.

Me: So, these habits serve, in your understanding, by limiting our free will as a psychological version of materialistic determinism. We act more or less like a machine, with habits determining the pattern of behavior?

Dr. Talia: Yes, but  I do not see limits so materialistic, linear and rigid, with habits determined by the multitude of physiological, environmental and social reasons.

Me: Both materialists and religious people take our freedom and free will away from us, humans – these are really strange bedfellows?

Dr. Talia: I generally agree with both of these views, determinist and religious, even Sartre has a hard version of freedom, they object  seen as a general possession, which occurs in the conscious state, sort of “ I am free and I will go, do free things..” But I am thinking about freedom “provided “ by the environment, and some environments are less free than others, also as a tendency someone has, and one has to cultivate freedom like one has to cultivate good health habits, cultivate good study habits or be a just cultured person. You can not say “I’ll now become cultured”, one has to engage in a long period of study and this is an ongoing process, rather than a state, either yes or no. The deterministic and religious concepts are just too static, you have to see freedom as a quality which occurs over the time.

Me: As a phenomenologist, you should appreciate free will almost by definition. Talking about the “first person philosophy” seems to be equivalent with the accepting free will?

Dr. Talia: I think it fits very well with Descartes and Sartre. Both of these philosophers had strong ideas of freedom. On the other hand, most of the phenomenologists stressed the concepts of being embodied in the culture and in the language which picks away this strong idea of free will. Also when you look at different cultures you see that the centrality of freedom is the western tradition.

This doesn’t exist in other cultures. So, one has to ask “ are we, westerners, free in different ways than the people in other cultures?” and, it seems to me, that the answer is “yes”. Probably, reading Confucius there exists there a kind of freedom. He encourages us to cultivate ourselves in certain ways and have certain attitudes toward the family and certain behaviors. But he definitely sees human more like a relational being rather than an individual.

In our tradition, the free will is an individual’s possession, and when you compare both systems, one can ask oneself a question: “am I free because of me, or because I am honoring behaviors typical within my society in which I am committed to do “free” things”? And now in my thinking, I am leaning more towards this relational concept of freedom. It requires others to have certain habits and me to have certain habits in order to see myself free.

Me: This is very close to the perennial quandary about subjectivity versus objectivity. Subjectively you feel free, but if somebody observes you, for the observer, you just act within your societal restraints and personal habits.

Dr. Talia: That’s right. And we also often view ourselves as objects. If you look in your past, you do not see so much freedom as in present. You see your past as a fixed record of historical events and you think, “ well, of course, I made all these bad decisions, because I was in my twenties and I  couldn’t  have done otherwise. I would be nice to go back and with the experience I have now and make all these good decisions”. But you can’t. The past appears objective but the future is the world of possibilities.

Me: The worldview owner’s manual encourages one to explore big questions. Do you think that the conversation or writing down one’s opinion about, for example, free will can help the person be more grounded, more positive regarding creating one’s life?

Dr. Talia: HaHa, I suppose, because of my job, I should say, “sure”. But I do feel super strongly, yes. Nietzsche has this idea of many wills inside of us. It seems, here is a multiplicity of subjects inside of us, like, there is this lazy person inside of us who wants to do one thing and there is another who wants to do something else and it is hard to tell who is the real self. And I think, that self-reflexion and thinking about your worldview and about other cultures, this philosophical reflection might help you come to better terms with yourself. You can see your strengths and weaknesses and you can potentially see the world in more reflective manner. It has an educational purpose but also has a therapeutic purpose. I think if one do not reflect much, one has to hope for the fate to turn very well for one. If you do self-reflect, it doesn’t mean that you will have the successful life, but at least it gives you some tools to deal with suffering, both external and internal.

      I was working with domestic violence abusers. It was really interesting, because, as these abusers came from the wide spectrum of social, income, educational strata, I found them, mostly, very relatable. And most of them appeared to very strongly wanted to break out the circle of violence, but for many reasons were unable to. It reminded me that it is so difficult to say- “these are bad people and these are good people”. But I think as much as one can engage in the self-reflection it can only help-” why I keep doing these things’’, “ why I am here again”,  “ why this pattern keep occurring in this relationship?” and it applied to both abusers and the victims. Talking to them and teaching them self-reflection aimed at the question “what can I do in the future if a similar situation occurs”? But most of these people saw the world as just happening to them, without being an active agent, they just reacted to things happening. And this is the worldview without free will and without freedom.

Me: We are back to upbringing, habits, and education…

Dr. Talia: Right, both Foucault and Confucius using very different terms, talk about the value and necessity of self-cultivation.  Rather than always trying to make good choices one should work steadily, continuously on self-cultivation until these good choices would come naturally.

This work is much more difficult, almost like the habit to save money or working on your worldview…

Me: Thank You Dr, Talia, I couldn’t agree more.

 

Big Question #4: What is the origin of evil?

“Do not be afraid; our fate
Cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.”
Dante Alighieri, Inferno

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  •  What does evil mean for you?
  • What is good and what is evil? Axiology (theory of values);
  •  What’s gone wrong? Is violence inevitable?
  • How is this question relevant to our everyday life?
  • It is sad but it seems that nobody needs any help with that…
  • If the evolution did not eliminate it, does evil has a function??? Is it evil and fear almost the same thing?
  • Human malfunctions, it is what’s really interesting, is it?

How do you work on the answer to question #4

First, one needs to read “Inferno“.

The evil numbs us, it paralyzes our ability to think, we just watch the horrible stories one after the other and can not think. Maybe to be brave is to force yourself to think, to connect the evil to the fear, to the ignorance and the mob mentality.

If you doubt that working on your personal worldview can give you some clarity and improve your resilience, then working on the source of evil should make your doubt smaller.

An example by Tomasz Boron: “Evil is a necessity required for the good to be noticed and appreciated as a contrary, for the good thrives on fighting the evil.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

An excellent antidote for anxiety, unexplained dark cloud, post-traumatic stress syndrome.Putting unexplained in the words, demystifying it helps, also browsing Philozophy, seeing all very diverse answers, seeing how real people deal with the problem…

An Interview with my  wife Linda

Linda wanted to talk about finding happiness but that interview was already done so she agreed to talk about evil.

Me: Is it possible to talk about evil and its origin as concepts separate from the “good” and “goodness”?

Linda: No, I don’t think you can, they are interdependent, just as male and female, black and white, moving and still, you can’t have one without another.

Me: Even if we accept the relational nature of these (maybe of all) concepts, could you try to separate them for now and talk about the origin of evil?

Linda: The evil has many origins, many causes in many dimensions. I would think that the main problem is the lack of empathy, of seeing other beings in the sympathetic light and vicariously being able to experience another person’s experience as your own – to the certain extent.

And, as I understand the science the lack of empathy can be traced to the deficiency of function of mirror neurons in the brain. I am sure there are other parts of the brain which are involved that I am not aware of, like, there is a genetic blip or defect and this would be the origin of evil.

I guess the people with normal brains can become evil, in the special circumstances, it has been documented in concentration camps and places like that, where perfectly normal people can be turned into sadists.  How that worked, I don’t know, but the result is the same. The evil person, the person doing evil things experiences no empathy tormenting or torturing other people, that is what enable him to do it. Or for some weird reason, she learns to take pleasure in it. So, that part I cannot really attribute a cause to, how the brain can be changed so the non-sadistic person becomes a sadist and derives pleasure from the other person suffering. It is a mystery to me. But, probably it comes back to the lack or deficiency or manipulation of the function of the mirror neurons.

   And, of course, greed can cause people to do harmful things and evil things. Again, if you have a normal set of mirror neurons it is going to prevent you from causing harm in pursuing money, or obtaining whatever you want, power, etc, etc…

Me: Do you think that origin of evil has anything to do with fear?

Linda: Yeah, I think, if people are afraid, maybe their mirror neurons are not working properly when you are afraid you can do evil things. One would say -and this is not an excuse- that the Nazi were afraid of Jews during the Second World War and in US Americans were afraid of Japanese and we set up our own camps and send the Japanese citizens of this country to these places until the war was over. So, yes, I think fear can create a lot of evil actions, but I don’t if it is an origin of evil itself. It is a transient thing, once the fear passes, the people can be appalled by what they have done. And, indeed, US was appalled and we apologized to the Japanese families who were interred during the war.

Me: Can open conversation and sharing opinions about the origins of evil help create a more humane world?

Linda: I don’t know. Hopefully. When we work on our worldviews the general and abstract ideas mingle with the personal issues. The concept of evil can be made very personal. One can think about “my evil”. We all have dark sides, our shadows,  and it is most dangerous if we do not acknowledge it, and don’t explore it, try to know it.

Then it has us, we do not have it. We project it on other people and do terrible things to them.

Both concepts, the philosophy of evil and personal evil, are very much interconnected and important to discuss and share.