Consciousness

Scientific materialists claim that consciousness presents a ‘hard problem’ that will ultimately be solved by science demonstrating how consciousness is created by brain activity. Personally I think this is nonsense – consciousness lies outside the domain of science. In this post I explore what consciousness is through the lens of the philosophy of panpsychism, as presented in philosopher Christian de Quincey’s book Blind Spots.

Consciousness (or mind) is subjective, it is undetectable, is not measurable, and is not located in space.

Physical entities have extension in space, consist of matter-energy and can be measured by science.

Consciousness and matter/energy are the inner and outer of existence. They always go together. Consciousness is the capacity for knowing, feeling, being aware, making choices. It needs energy to act. Consciousness is pervasive throughout the universe, and goes ‘all the way down’ to the smallest components.

Consciousness gives meaning to the universe, gives an order that would otherwise dissipate through entropy, according to the laws of thermodynamics.

Consciousness provides a potential explanatory ‘mechanism’ for phenomena of action at a distance, such as intentional healing, remote communication, quantum interconnections and other well-documented phenomena – which provide great difficulty for science.

To me, this all seems rather more plausible than scientific materialism, and seems consistent with the world as I see it, and as it is reported by others.

Does this matter? Well yes, it is crucial. Scientific materialism and the relentless focus of materialist economics and everyday life on the outer, as opposed to the inner, is actually in the process of destroying the world it has created, through a lack of the wisdom that comes from inner focus. Do I need to mention the evident lack of sustainability again: global warming, pollution, wars, inequality, lack of concern for the poor etc.?

Do read Blind Spots or another of de Quincey’s books.

Featured image entitled ‘The path to consciousness’ is by Sar Maroof, via Wikimedia Commons

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Lapwings

These lapwings at Anderton Country Park were too far away for a sharp photograph with my travel zoom, but I rather like the impressionistic picture. You can just about make out the characteristic lapwing crests. (Yes, there are a few ducks and gulls in the mix.)

Giant House Spider

The dog saw it a moment before I did, and almost managed to grab it off the vinyl floor before my quick intervention. This spider was BIG, appearing significantly larger than spiders usually found around the house, and with much bulkier body and legs than the long-legged harvestmen we sometimes see. Almost scary!

I first made a quick grab for the camera before it disappeared, and then carefully extracted it to the outdoors, using a large tumbler and piece of card.

giant house spider

An unusual feature of this spider is that the thorax is larger than the abdomen – most seem to be proportioned the other way around. Research shows it to be a giant house spider, actually quite common, with body length over half-an-inch.

According to Wikipedia, these spiders have eight rather ineffective eyes; the flash used for the photo has highlighted two of them. These spiders are not said to be keen on biting pets or people, so are not as scary as they look at first sight.

Exploring Ontology

Ontology – the fundamental nature of being

Something exists. As sentient conscious beings, we each know this for certain.

Nothing cannot cause something. So something must have always existed, as must consciousness.

Big Bang theory models the creation of space-time out of nothing, which is ontologically suspect.

Materialist philosophy suggests that consciousness emerged from no-consciousness, which is ontologically miraculous.

At the heart of things is mystery, which leaves plenty of space for God.

Inspired by Christian de Quincey’s book Blindspots.

Instinct and Intuition

Neither instinct nor intuition involve thought. Both involve responding directly to a situation. So what is the difference?

Instinct is an innate faculty we share with other living beings. We respond automatically to situations, eg catch a ball that is about to hit us, avoid contact with an unfriendly being. It typically involves a fixed pattern of behaviour, “reacting”. Instinct came along first and maybe represents the sum of experience of earlier generations, plus learned responses.

Intuition is direct knowledge of a situation. We just know what is right, what is true, what is about to happen, etc. Something is “seen” or “understood” beyond what is presented. Spiritual writings suggest that this involves a link to our ‘higher self’. Others suggest it’s something to do with pattern recognition. Intuition develops over the individual’s experience during a lifetime.

A quick web search showed me a huge variety of definitions of instinct and intuition. The most inspirational I found was that by Christen Rodgers:

True intuition arises from within the depths of your soul. It speaks in the language of the spirit – the language of love, flow, hope, and forward movement. Instinct, on the other hand, isn’t a spiritual sense but a physiological one. It comes from and serves the flesh and speaks the language of survival – fight or flight, judgement, avoidance, aggression, and fear.

This key difference is how you can tell them apart. Whereas instinct speaks in terms of resistance, intuition speaks in terms of flow. Intuition will urge you to go this way, do this thing, or approach that person. If something isn’t right for you, intuition won’t push against it. Instead, it will simply redirect you towards something else. Instinct, on the other hand, pushes back. It resists, fears, or judges what you perceive as wrong rather than beckoning you towards what’s right.

For Christen, the difference is between a response coming from a place of love, and one coming from a place of fear. I think this is going too far – animals clearly have both fearing and loving instincts. So maybe she’s right in terms of how we should assess our automatic responses, but not in strict definitional terms.

Other insights will be welcome as comments. (‘Insight’ – there’s another similar word that some writers take as a step beyond intuition.)

Spindle Red

spindle treeMost of the trees in Anderton Country Park are still green, many tinged with yellow and brown. Then there is the occasional splash of red, notably these wonderful Spindle Trees, with red leaves and red-and-yellow flowers. The rest of the year these trees are quite anonymous, but now, what a sight to lift the spirits!

The blogging persona

“What I want is to put into a book not only my ideas, but my person.”

Paul Tournier
from The Meaning of Persons

How much of ourselves do we reveal in a blog post? Paul Tournier faced this sort of question when writing his book. It could skate over the surface of things, avoiding anything that might be uncomfortable to his ego/persona, or he could reveal something of himself, as he might do in dialogue with another person.

And how dangerous might it be, as well as uncomfortable, to reveal things in a blog post? We’ve all heard tales of posts on social media that have subsequently been bitterly regretted.

Thus we bloggers create a new persona, showing what we are comfortable with being reasonably public, but hiding aspects of ourselves that we would only be comfortable with revealing in more intimate dialogue.

It’s in the nature of the beast.

To Live is to Choose

I love the title of the penultimate chapter of Paul Tournier’s book The Meaning of Persons. That must mean I have lessons to learn here!

“…it is precisely the free and responsible commitment of the self which creates the person.”

Procrastination and putting off decisions/choices is not good for the person. As is hanging on to old, outdated habits and situations.

“As soon as a man obeys his inner call, he upsets the game, bringing to light around him the persons buried underneath the personages.”

Yes it is time for change, and ever will be!

The Meaning of Persons

meaning of persons
A modern version

After writing my last post on Person, I was inspired to look back at a book that has graced my shelves for nearly fifty years – a rather battered copy of Paul Tournier’s The Meaning of Persons – which shows how long I have been interested in these ideas! The subtitle Reflections on a Psychiatrist’s Casebook accurately describes the content as his own reflections on his experience as a doctor, psychiatrist and Christian.

Tournier uses the word ‘person’ in its modern sense of the whole living individual, and uses the contrasting term ‘personage’ to represent the mask we present to the world, the outer human being, as opposed to the inner lived human being. Jung called this personage the persona (per-sona), so I will stick with Jung’s term henceforth.

Tournier ponders the question How can we Discover the True Person, in the context of his psychoanalytic work. He contrasts the process of objective and scientific inquiry, where information is exchanged, with the process of subjective and intuitive personal encounter where a bond of sympathy and affection is established between two people. In the former learning takes place; in the latter understanding takes place. He suggests that in the latter case there is true communion which touches the other person deeply. Tournier regards this communion as spiritual, and relates it to Martin Buber’s I and Thou. This is also the key to understanding oneself as a person – relationship with others.

Further reflection suggests that the person is the original living creation, and the persona is the automatic, habitual routine presented to the world. Industrial society and technology are increasingly impersonal and encourage the repetition of the persona and not the creativity of the true person. Much of social media and the celebrity culture focus precisely on personas.

There is an ongoing tension between person and persona, because we do not fully ‘know’ ourselves. This tension is often greatly magnified in those who need the support of a psychoanalyst.

There are interesting reflections on the distinction between psychology and spirituality. Tournier suggests that psychology is the science or method by which the mind is ‘laid bare’, but as soon as we approach questions of attitude to self/life/God/morality, then we are in the spiritual business of soul-healing.

In the latter part of the book, Tournier reflects on the bible, the living God and Jesus Christ as important aspects of his own perspective on the world – and entirely consistent with his psychoanalysis and the rest of this book. Indeed the bible has many hidden messages about discovering the inner living person. St Francis was a great exemplar:

“St Francis had become so fully a person, found such personal fellowship with God, that in every thing he saw a person, a reflection of the person of God.”

We could do worse than follow that…

With thanks to my friend Geoff at university for introducing me to Tournier’s book.
The photo of Paul Tournier is from Wikipedia.

 

Person

We use the word ‘person’ to signify a particular human being. But it was not always so.

The word person comes from the Latin word persona, maybe from the earlier Etruscan persu, a sort of mask through which actors spoke (per-sonare). Just one or two centuries ago person was still used to signify the exterior appearance of the individual, not the whole being including the human interior.

The word person has subsequently expanded to connote the whole human being, precisely at a time when materialism has been in the ascendant, psychology reduced to an objective science, and inner spiritual/soul experience increasingly denied.

“Once we were human beings, now we are persons.”

Anders Lidén

Thus language reflects changes in consciousness. Being aware of this helps us to understand how we got where we are, and maybe what has been lost in the process.

This fascinating thread of argument is presented in Anders Lidén’s article ‘Rimbaud and the Breaking Down of the Mask’ in the Jan-Mar 2018 issue of The Beacon magazine.

Lying to Save Others

There is much profound wisdom in the posts of Aperture of Brahma. I am reblogging this post, which asks whether lying to save the feelings of others is ever justified. It suggests that the ‘skill of gentleness’ can avoid the hurt caused by truth, and that it is our own approval seeking that avoids telling truth. There is much food for thought here; but this ‘skill of gentleness’ is not easily developed, and what if we judge that the truth is not beneficial to those concerned?

Aperture Of Brahma

What is the lie to save others?

Have you ever received a phone call and just let it ring and sometime later said “Sorry I missed your call,” and perhaps even offered, “My ringer was turned off,” or “I was in a meeting?”

What is a lie but the opposite of honesty? What are half truths but lies?

Justifying a lie due to our assumption that we are saving another from suffering does not disqualify an untruth. The opportunity to tell the truth in every situation is an opportunity to develop the skill of gentleness. The truth does not have to hurt. It is pride that makes it seem so.

Words are triggers that activate unresolved emotions. When we lie, our repressed emotions become associated with assumptions. They swim together, like schools of fish. The more these repressed emotions (complexes) are pushed deeper into the personal unconscious, the greater…

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Fibonacci Grape Pips?

2,1,2,2,3,3,3,2,2,5,1,2,2,2,3,5,2…

I was idly counting the pips in each grape off a bunch from E Leclerc (cf Tesco, Kroger). (It seems that France has not really caught on to the fashion for seedless grapes; most on sale had pips. Yes, they were more tasty.) My idle counting had spotted a potential ‘pattern’ – so far these are all Fibonacci numbers, and it is well known that Fibonacci numbers appear frequently in nature. Could it be…?? Then came the next sequence:

4,3,3,1,2,2,5,2,2,6

Now FOUR is not a Fibonacci number, so appears to be anomalous. Well, science does allow for anomalous results that don’t fit the current theory. Then comes the SIX. But here I notice two tiny black dots in the grape – putative pips that did not develop – which makes 8, another Fibonacci number. Maybe I’d missed a black dot with the 4?

So I can hang on to my theory for a while, until more anomalous data emerges. A rather trivial example of the scientific method in action? Of course, there are far too few results to draw conclusions…

Featured image by Thamizhpparithi Maari, via Wikimedia Commons

Faith

As a teenager, I read William James’s book The Varieties of Religious Experience, and was quite enthralled, coming as I did from a strong scientific education with a lukewarm smattering of Methodism. So I was delighted to read the following James quote from Alister McGrath in his book Enriching our Vision of Reality. It is the best definition I’ve seen of that elusive word ‘faith’.

“Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is still theoretically possible… Faith is synonymous with working hypothesis.”

This is not faith as dogma, which is a common association used to denigrate. It is faith ‘sensitive to reason, experimental in nature, and therefore susceptible to revision.’

McGrath’ s context is in the bringing together of science and Christian theology, but we could apply his reasoning to any religion, different sciences, and other ways of looking at the world, such as astrology.

His point is that both science and religion are ways in which we strive to understand the mystery of life. Both develop hypotheses to live by, but are subject to change where they do not correspond with lived reality. Both use story/metaphor/analogy to point the way; science adds the use of mathematical models, where it can. Perhaps it is this wonderful use of mathematics that encourages the common misperception that everything can be rationally described, but this is clearly not the case – as was concluded by, among others, Einstein, Newton and Darwin. There is always the mystery beyond…

In particular, materialists can lay no claim to a privileged context. Their faith in materialism and objective knowledge is as much a working hypothesis as is the Christian doctrine of the trinity. The so-called New Atheists are simply asserting their particular faith.

Chiggered

It seemed a good idea to go through the local lanes blackberrying with friends in Normandy. Due to the dry weather a lot of the berries were quite small, but there were plenty if you could reach, and we got enough to make a few jars of jam.

Wearing T-shirt tucked into long trousers, there did not seem too much danger of insect bites. But then a day or two later came an insane level of itching around ankles, thighs and waist, and the discovery of 36 ‘bites’. Our friends thought they were from local spiders, but subsequent research suggests that they were bites from chiggers, or harvest mites, or aoutats in France (August pests).

chigger life cycle
Life Cycle from Wikipedia

I was not really aware of these pests. See the above Wikipedia entry. The larval stage of the lifecycle of this mite is of size about 0.007inch, so hardly visible to the naked eye. Once on you they can come and go as they please! They burrow down and eat the inner skin, and can cause skin rashes, blisters etc. Two of mine blistered and took ages to heal.

Well worth being aware of these little pests, and beware those tempting blackberries in an area you’re not familiar with!

 

 

Metanoia

When reading an interesting text and coming across a word you are not familiar with, there is a terrible temptation to march on and hope that the meaning becomes clear from the context. For me, such a word was metanoia. Recently reading Alister McGrath’s book Enriching our Vision of Reality, I was brought to a better understanding by the author’s clear definition, related to ways of seeing reality.

Wikipedia throws further light, giving two meanings – one spiritually oriented and the other psychologically oriented. Metanoia is about a fundamental change in the way we see and act in the world, maybe a bit more fundamental than the similar concept of paradigm shift. Such was perhaps what happened in Europe as a whole around the time of the enlightenment, when a religious and naturalistic perspective on the world was gradually supplanted by a scientific and materialistic perspective.

The world we see today reflects both the benefits and the fundamental problems that have emerged as a result of this perspective, which has ignored the natural ecosystem as the essential support for human existence (giving global warming, pollution, species extinction etc etc.) and has lost touch at a political level with the morality and values necessary to give a good and equitable life to all humans (leading to incredible inequalities and a clear lack of moral leadership from the titular heads of countries and other supposed leaders).

There is now little doubt that metanoia is what is needed at a global level to avoid a nightmarish future for humanity. Of course, I have in this blog frequently referred to the concept of a New Renaissance, which is another way of putting it. Personal psychological and spiritual transformation is a big part of the answer, and everyone needs it.

In particular, there are enormous egos in politics and in business, to whom circumstances happen to have given great wealth and power. Their, and our, need is that they transcend those egos and work for the common good.

Note that one dimension of this is by paying good wages and paying due taxes, which is a way of sharing out that good fortune to all. Opting instead for the apparent current fashion of an ego-expanding philanthropy that remains within the ego’s control is a diversion, possibly beneficial to the general good, but certainly not a metanoia.

Chicory

Nearly 30 years ago it was Alf who brought to my attention these patches of blue flowers that are frequently seen by the roadside in France and Spain. They are common chicory, a member of the dandelion family (it is also known as blue dandelion). The individual flowers are actually quite beautiful, they last but a short time, with new flowers appearing daily.

chicory flower

Roasted chicory root is used as a coffee substitute or additive, found in some types of French coffee. Interestingly, the salad leaf endive is of the same family, also sometimes known as chicory.

Spider Webs Amboise

This spider web encrusted street lamp in Amboise looked quite spectacular. I took a photograph on automatic, and the effect was underwhelming. For the following shot I tried the ‘postfocus’ facility on my Panasonic TZ100 – this takes a number of frames at different focus and give the option of selecting the best or merging the best focused parts of the picture. The result is much better. Not quite like the old film photography!

spiderwebs amboise

Common Blue 2

This quick shot by zoom lens on auto gives an interesting perspective on the common blue butterfly, in that you can see the top side of one wing and the underside of the other.

common blue (2)

Taken in Dordogne region of France late summer 2018. The butterflies here don’t seem to stay still long enough for closer than zoom lens.

Banded agrion

This beautiful large blue damselfly is described as a banded demoiselle by Wikipedia, or banded agrion in our old butterfly book. By damselfly standards this is large, around 2 inches long. This one is a brilliant iridescent blue, they can be blue-green. The most distinctive feature is the large dark patch on the wing.

Seen commonly in Europe and Asia. This one paused conveniently by the River Vézère in the Dordogne region of France, late summer 2018.