Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Posts Tagged ‘mind-matter’

Fritjof Capra – unity of science and spirituality

Posted by robertpriddy on May 24, 2016

Dynamic complexity theory and the understanding of what Fritjof Capra called ‘networks’, enables understanding to progress well beyond many traditional dualism-based ideas and theories (such as arrived at only by intuition, untested assumptions and argumentation) towards genuine science-based unification hypotheses and discoveries.

Some of Fritjof Capra’s key ideas go beyond dualism and lead toward the reconciliation of many a theoretical and philosophical problem inherited from dualistic thought, which also has been dominant in Western culture and which persists in many of the less than up-to-date discoveries of philosophy and science. See Networks as a unifying pattern of life involving different processes at different levels – An interview with Fritjof Capra (http://wp.ufpel.edu.br/consagro/files/2010/08/CAPRA-INTERVIEW-FRANCIS-PIANSI-English.pdf)

Capra said: “What I am trying to do is to present a unified scientific view of life; that is, a view integrating life’s biological, cognitive, and social dimensions.“ Though many scientists considered this would be impossible, Capra bases his investigation on evolutional biochemistry which has made tremendous progress in understanding that process of molecular evolution. In evolution, symbiosis developed and led to new forms is called symbiogenesis, which continued throughout the evolution of life. Capra rejects the possibility of a master theory from which everything in existence can be deduced saying, “Even though there is a unified basic pattern of life, and we can be more precise and say that this pattern is a network pattern, these networks are not structures – at least most of them – they are functional networks.”

“The answer is the notion of sustainability. Over the evolution of life, nature has developed certain patterns of organisation that allowed life to survive for billions and billions of years, using the very same molecules of air, water, and soil. And not only to survive, but to unfold and increase its diversity, and so on. These patterns of organisation are patterns we need to understand and to apply to our human design. This is what is called eco-design today.”

Seeing sustainability as the key to unified development of the networks between man and nature, Capra says of his concept of networks: “I have included meaning, values, culture, consciousness, etc., right from the start, I can use my theoretical framework to analyse the global economy, and values are a crucial part of that analysis.” “Their importance is growing as a form of organisation whose efficiency has been enhanced by information technology. The body of knowledge that deals with them has mushroomed in the last ten years or so.”

On “the essential characteristic of Life” Capra says:”… the answer lies not in the structure of the cell, the answer lies in what philosophers and poets
have always called the breath of life. When something has the breath of life, it is alive. In scientific terms, that’s what we call metabolism. Metabolism is the ceaseless flow of energy through a network of biochemical processes, which allows the organism to maintain itself, to repair itself and to perpetuate itself. This metabolism is the essential characteristic of life.”

“With regard to complexity, I think the main characteristic of a complex system is that it is nonlinear. Complexity theory is a set of mathematical concepts and techniques that deal with nonlinear systems. A network, by definition, is nonlinear. The significance of this property was recognised already in the days of cybernetics. The cyberneticists were very interested in networks but did not have the mathematical tools to deal with nonlinearity. They invented all kinds of mathematical techniques, but they did not have the powerful computers that we now have to deal with nonlinear equations and to simulate nonlinear systems. A network is intrinsically nonlinear.”

“My firm belief is that life is a unified whole, that we don’t have biological life, and social life, and mental life or psychological life, and spiritual life. I think this is all part of the whole process of life,which has evolved on this planet for the last 3.5 billion years. It has evolved, as I said before, by using the same patterns over and over again.”

Fritjof Capra:- “We all need to better understand networks. Their importance is growing as a form of organisation whose efficiency has been enhanced by information technology. The body of knowledge that deals with them has mushroomed in the last ten years or so. The internet – network of networks – is now a significant part of the life of hundreds of millions of people. The metaphor is part of our everyday vocabulary.”
“Even though there is a unified basic pattern of life, and we can be more precise and say that this pattern is a network pattern, these networks are not structures – at least most of them – they are functional networks.”

“”Meaning” is a sort of catchword, or a label, for the whole dimension of consciousness and culture, where we have values, purpose, goals, strategies, conflicts, power, and so on. Power is actually a very interesting part.” …”meaning” is the ability of human consciousness to form mental images. That to me is the key. If I am able to form a mental image of something that either does not exist, or doesn’t exist yet, or is not here at the moment, I can say: this is what I want, and I am going to work toward it. So, the whole idea of purpose is based crucially on our ability to form mental images: strategies, plan, all that.”

Questioner: At some point you said: “The design principles of our future social institutions must be consistent with the principles of organisation that nature has evolved to sustain the web of life.” Why should it be so?

When there is a conflict between making more money or protecting human rights
– workers, all over the world need to be paid living wages
- toxic substances should be handled with certain care
– certain health considerations should be taken into account
– not trade in endangered species
– we cannot have processes of industrial production where we take natural resources, manufacture goods, create a lot of waste in the process, and then throw away the
goods themselves. This is not how nature works. The understanding of ecology tells you that species who act like this do not survive.

“How do you change the rules?”

FC — “I think that can be addressed only politically. Technically, it is absolutely possible to reprogram the global economy according to different values.”

“What we need to do is first to become ecologically literate, to understand the principles of organisation that ecosystems have evolved to sustain life, and then we have to redesign our technologies and social institutions accordingly. When you try to understand how ecosystems organise themselves, this leads you very soon to understanding how all living systems organise themselves. So, the exploration of sustainability becomes inextricably linked to the question of the nature of life, the nature of living systems.”

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The subjective mind’s relation to objective truth

Posted by robertpriddy on February 4, 2016

All my experience is subjective and so is yours. But this does not mean that all of it is private. It can be shared, though not immediately or directly, but only through communication of one or another kind. The subjectivity of all our sensations, perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and conceptions does not arise always – or only – from our subjective inner world, for there are phenomena beyond our control and even beyond ken, be they objects and events from anywhere in space-time or neurones in the brain which register them. Such entities are independent of any one individual, and are common to all who may perceive them.

The causes of responses in the human brain to stimuli come largely from outside the brain (i.e. from the world and/or the body), secondarily from reflections in memory of external stimuli’s effects and thoughts or emotions about them. People’s perceptions of the same object or event are not necessarily entirely the same, and their interpretation of what they perceive can differ very greatly. There can likewise be inter-subjective agreement about perceptions, just as there may or may not be agreement of interpretations or opinions.

Whatever originates beyond the conscious brain or mind – as well as what it invokes for a person – will always be more or less transitory, for everything changes given time, and not least also the mind and the personality-identity of everyone. All we perceive, conceive and interpret meaning from is relative to the individual mind. Other minds, situated otherwise each have different backgrounds, memories and conceptions.

Each of us was began to grow up into what can perhaps best be called a ‘historically prejudiced’ consciousness. Perceptions, ideas, beliefs, ideologies, certainties, doubts and confusions are all conditioned by one’s figurative cradle. How confining or otherwise this proves to be will depend not least upon upbringing and the development of personal qualities, upon the degree and kind of autonomy of being that is allowed or encouraged. The chrysalis of accepted truths, from childhood to maturity and beyond. The transformation from whatever herd instincts or cultural leanings one acquired into a free-thinking, self-observant and knowledgeable spirit requires the inspiration and also the hard knocks of the wider personal experience the better. Not that all personal experience is positive, for one’s experiences can be so fruitless, debilitating or ruinous that it quells the spirit.


Solipsism

Solipsism is a philosophical theory of knowledge, the key position of which is no one else but oneself exists. All one perceives and experiences is the spontaneous creation of one’s own mind.  This can, of course, never be proved or disproved in any conclusive fashion. The convinced believer in solipsism cannot be argued down by decisive evidence that others exist, since the evidence and the person stating it can all be claimed to be a creation of the mind of the solipsist. The external world likewise… it is a projection of the solipsist’s mind.

However, if the solipsist is the only being who exists, why does his mind create the illusion that there is an external world, one which limits his abilities to do many things and constrains him in countless ways? Why is the solipsist’s mind itself, being the only one in existence, incapable of creating whatever he wishes simply through thinking it? If the universe is, as some insist, a delusion, why does the solipsist allow his mind to go on creating a delusion?

This solipsist delusion of narcissistic ‘untouchability’ would have been developed through time and diverse circumstances, a growing cognitive disorder caused by long-term underlying personal problems or reduced mental quality. The claims cannot be sustained for even the most hard-line solipsist has to interact with the real world, so actions will conflict with the rigorous opinion. The chief psychological feature of solipsism is, most likely, an extreme bias towards black-and-white thinking and an exclusively one-sided and artificially limited application of scepticism.


Scepticism

Scepticism is a method, not a belief system. It can, like any method, be badly understood and misapplied, but properly understood it is a means to clearing away bewitchment of the mind through habit, unreflecting blundering, the wiles and traps of language (especially the written word), and the ossification of one’s cherished experiences and ideas.

Sceptical thought differs from the subject matter it investigates in that it can reveal what the subject matter occludes or has purposely been covered up. When sceptical inquiry is applied even-handedly by pursuing both pro and contra standpoints, alternative theories etc., it will – if successful – develop more and more evidence to support for the one or the other. It examines arguments for use of pseudo- evidence, investigating whether or not reproducible facts support them. Once the dialectic of overviews is sorted out sufficiently, use of the sceptical method can reach conclusions which are far superior to mere rational conjecture. It is the guardian against false beliefs, unfounded beliefs, and beliefs which run contrary to knowledge and evidence and false claims, cover-ups and counterfeit evidence. That is why no person retains a religious faith of any kind when they are accomplished thinkers who question rather than believe what they want, what is comfortable, and what they depend on like an emotional crutch. The stage is reality, there is nothing behind it (except speculative wishful thinking) and the audience is part of the entire theatre.

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What comes first: matter or mind?

Posted by robertpriddy on July 1, 2010

WHAT CAME FIRST?

To ask what came first, such as ‘matter’ or ‘mind’ is often brushed aside as an unsolvable riddle like ‘which came first, chicken or egg’ problem. The body-mind schizma, the god vs. creation argument and all related basic (epistemological) dualisms are, in some ways, glorified chicken-egg questions. What is much greater is the depth of interpretations that can be devised, the sophistication and breadth of the pro and contra arguments and – not least –  the degree of empirical evidence that can be brought to bear. To claim it is unsolvable because it is based on assumptions or supposed axiomatic data is a mentally short-circuited attitude. Even assumptions can eventually be tested and proved or disproved – and, failing that, shown to be extremely unlikely or the reverse. Blowing the mental fuse and breaking the flow of insights, the connections between questioning, investigating, observing and reasoning. It disposes of the essential problem without even an attempt to probe what it means or what consequences it can have for human thought and knowledge, culture and life itself.

The most contradictory standpoints and cultures are generated from one or another side of the ultimate ‘ontological’ dualism which takes many forms such as mind vs. matter, cosmos vs. universe, God vs. no creator, soul vs body, religion vs. science, spiritual idealism (‘mentalism’) vs. materialism/physicalism, belief vs. (empirically-based) knowledge. The questions ‘Was the cosmos created by God?’ and “Is God a mental creation of humankind” encapsulate the divergence as ‘creationism’ versus ‘evolutionism’. This is parallel to the issue whether mind can create matter or not (the latter implying that mind arises from matter).

Before summarizing the main reasons why I maintain that mind is matter-dependent and not the reverse, I shall examine some of the grounds on which the most subtle religious ideas about creation are based. Note, however, that belief is absolutely required in the case of the ‘spiritual’ side of the divide and – since belief is ultimately just ‘blind’ faith other than empirical nor methodically-tested rational knowledge – this brings us into the realm of speculation or religious mysticism. The influence that this has had on humanity and all cultures is immense, so it must be confronted and questioned where it stands on its own ground. Ideas of God’s existence, nature and all interpreted qualities vary more tremendously than one can encompass fruitfully, so I concentrate on some of the key or mainstream beliefs.

Indian cosmology has various explanations of creation by God (as creative Brahma) one representation of which is the cosmic egg . [One inadvertently thinks ‘was there a cosmic chicken?’] Some argue that the cosmic egg – which is though to be a spheroid rather than have a true egg shape – is alternatively represented as the Shiva lingam – which is at odds with the usual Shiva lingam shape as that of an erect ‘membrum virile‘. All most confusing. [Apropos what comes first, in a literal sense, the egg precedes the chicken, since dinosaurs laid eggs and are far from being chickens which evolved from them.] A more accepted Indian idea of creation is that it is the breath of Brahma which initiates the cosmos with the sound ‘Aum‘. This may be reflected in the Christian cosmology of St. John “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God…” The inevitable criticism would be, how did the owner of the cosmic lung arise? Since God is generally now recognized in Indian monotheism as a universal being as spirit (Atman) immersed totally in consciousness and bliss, one must conclude that the material universe is generated in and by consciousness. Again, from where did consciousness and/or bliss itself spring? It is inconceivable… and this is the catch. What one cannot perceive but must blindly believe to exist does not advance our understanding of anything, let alone ourselves (as it is doctrinally supposed to do). Was the original awareness just a tiny glimmer which expanded later – like the physical universe? If so, it is the Big Bang all over again, but in an immaterial sense – either prior to physical creation or possibly concurrent with this. This brings understanding of any spiritual creative origin no further forward… though the physicalistic theory of the Big Bang advanced human understanding by a huge empirical- and knowledge-based factor compared to scriptural words. Some would add that the Atman is eternal… but this is a vague assertion. ‘Eternal’ can mean enduring for ever through time, or else possibly existing independently of time (and space). The first alternative is ruled out since the Big Bang posits that time-space arises with it, before which was nothing. The second alternative is fraught with the same problem that is at the root of all spiritual ideas… there is nothing in human experience which can be called independent of time-space or even described symbolically with any reasonability or consistency.

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