Volatility

August 13, 2011

Freedom, Responsibility, and Material Equality

>

This is adapted from a comment this morning on this thread at Naked Capitalism, because it goes to what we’ve been discussing here lately.
 

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents.

This, I would suggest, is real liberty at work. And it is probably an early example of what I expect will become an increasingly political debate, rather than a managerialist debate, about the direction of developed economies.

 
(Actually, the last I heard Iceland’s Leaders still wanted to go along with the neoliberal game plan, but the people were simply refusing. It was a stand-off, since Iceland’s consciousness still hasn’t yet advanced to the point of dispensing with Leadership completely. That post is from over a year ago, but I haven’t heard that anything’s changed.)
 
This is certainly a debate which will need to begin. This has long been nothing but politics, but there’s been no debate, just a unilateral assault by the rich and big corporations on the people, those who actually work, on civil society, on democracy, and on all freedom. This means the assault has been upon politics itself, to abolish it and replace it with direct administrative rule on behalf of corporations (globalization cadres like the WTO and IMF), wherever the corporations don’t exercise direct dictatorship.
 
The market ideology is simple: Only the rich and big corporate persons exist at all as citizens or even as human beings. They have infinite rights and zero responsibilities or risks.
 
Meanwhile human beings, except insofar as they have sufficient money, are not citizens or human at all, have zero rights, but do have infinite responsibilities to respect the prerogatives of their overlords. (The piece itself implicitly agrees, as we see with its drive-by attack on the uprising. More lies about alleged responsibilities of the poor to “society”. I’d say they have responsibilities to their own communities, and to their fellow impoverished elsewhere, but to nothing and no one else. Everyone else is simply part of a massive crime wave against them.)
 
The truth is the opposite. Freedom can exist only among peers. Being peers includes rough material equality. By definition it’s impossible for freedom, contracts, etc. to exist wherever there’s a significant material or other power differential. If you’re on the wrong side of such a differential, you’re already disenfranchised and dispossessed. You’ve already had your freedom and citizenship stolen, and probably far more. You’ve already been stripped of your rightful society (this was at the core of the Greek political concept of tyranny: the tyrant was one who usurped the entire political realm by setting himself above others and making political peer relations impossible). You certainly can’t have responsibilities to things that don’t exist. And you certainly cannot have rights under such conditions.
 
So why not live up to our human responsibilities, our responsibilities to ourselves, our friends and families, our communities, our lost democracy, by asserting our right outside this criminal system, and wherever possible against it? Toward it and all who support it, indeed, we should mirror its purely mercenary policy.
Advertisements

69 Comments

  1. Apologies for posting it here, but I’m hoping the same Toby is posting on NC and here, because the post system over there is currently refusing to show my response 😉 If they are different, feel free to remove it.
    In addition, this is probably a bit more abstract/theoretical than you’re looking for in this thread, so again, apologies for the slight hijack.

    Toby:

    On a side note I’d like to point out that, in my opinion, there is no such thing as freedom, just as there is no uncaused cause. There are no actions, only reactions. Agency is an illusion, as is free will. Yet more embarrassing than failing to recognize this is thinking ‘free’ markets is a term that can possibly make sense, or refer to anything other than a cynical fantasy.

    Might I point you towards Bruno Latour’s work, and especially Reassembling the Social?
    What you’re looking for, in any case, is a relational definition of freedom/agency. Latour (excuse quote length):

    So, an actor-network is what is made to act by a large star-shaped web of mediators flowing in and out of it. It is made to exist by its many ties: attachments are first, actors are second. To be sure, such an expression smacks of ‘sociologism’, but only as long as we put too much in ‘being’ and not enough in ‘having’. As Tarde insisted long ago, the family of ‘to have’ is much richer than the family of ‘to be’ because, with the latter, you know neither the boundary nor the direction: to possess is also being possessed; to be attached is to hold and to be held. Possession and all its synonyms are thus good words for a reworked meaning of what a ‘social puppet’ could be. The strings are still there, but they transport autonomy or enslavement depending on how they are held. From now on, when we speak of actor we should always add the large network of attachments making it act. As to emancipation, it does not mean ‘freed from bonds’ but well-attached. (p. 217-18)

    Other circulations of standards seem more tenuous, even though their tractability is fairly good as long as the observer does not let the irruption of the ‘social explanation’ break this Ariadne thread. How would you know your ‘social category’ without the enormous work done by statistical institutions that work to calibrate, if not to standardize, income categories? How would one identify oneself as ‘uppermiddle class’, ‘yuppy’, or ‘preppy’ without reading the newspapers? How would you know your ‘psychological profile’ without more statistical surveys, more professional meetings, more consensus conferences? How would a psychiatrist categorize a mental patient without the DSM? It is no use saying that those categories are arbitrary, conventional, fuzzy, or, on the contrary, too sharply bounded or too unrealistic. They do solve practically the problem of extending some standard everywhere locally through the circulation of some traceable document —- even though the metaphor of a document might dim somewhat. It is not the case that some powerful people unfairly ‘pigeon-hole’ other people whose ‘ineffable interiority’ is thus ignored and mutilated; rather, the circulation of quasi-standards allow anonymous and isolated agencies to slowly become, layer after layer, comparable and commensurable -— which is surely a large part of what we mean by being human. This common measurement depends, of course, on the quality of what is transferred. The question is not to fight against categories but rather to ask: ‘Is the category subjecting or subjectifying you?’ As we saw at the end of the last chapter, freedom is getting out of a bad bondage, not an absence of bonds. (p. 230)

    Comment by Foppe — August 13, 2011 @ 7:47 am

    • Everything in that quote is bad bondage, since it all refers to class stratification and its supplementary modes of domination.

      As for free will being an illusion, of course it is in an absolute sense. Like Nietzsche said, there’s only strong or weak wills along some vector toward some goal. This is the same discussion Toby and I started having in the previous thread.

      So the question is what’s the goal, and what’s to be the point of freedom. That’s the only way in which the concept freedom has any content.

      (The bourgeois fetishization of negative freedom is of course really a camouflage for might makes right according to the imperatives of concentrated wealth, i.e. the eradication of all human measures of freedom, which was the occasion for the NC post and my comment that became this post.)

      Comment by Russ — August 13, 2011 @ 10:03 am

      • Hi Russ/attempter, my first comment here, ( following Foppe’s link. )

        Freedom, as an abstraction, doesn’t mean much, does it ? It needs qualification, as in freedom from something ( say, fear, or coercion ), or freedom to do something ( say, walk down a beach, or stay in bed all day ).

        I consider myself to have more freedom than anyone else I know of, but I still have to eat, use the toilet, clean the place, put my clothes on and off, and a whole lot more, so I cannot be free from fundamental demands of material existence.

        What I can be free of, as a result of conscious deliberate effort, are the cultural pressures which coerce most people, the desires and appetites and cravings and antipathies. If you peel all that stuff away, a person really doesn’t need very much of anything. The simplest choice of will, say, to stand up, or to remain seated, is a fabulous treasure, if it is fully understood. A miracle, in fact.

        There doesn’t need to be a goal, other than complete acceptance of one’s human condition, that being is sufficient unto itself. If you want some larger goal ( change the world, soceity, culture, the system, whatever ) then it provides a stance from which to step forward, and a secure base to which to return.
        That’s how I see it, anyway 🙂

        Comment by wb — August 13, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

      • In the sense Latour is using this term, you’d also be ‘in bondage’ in a classless society, because your actions would still depend on which people you can cooperate with, which in turn is influenced by the kinds of relationships you have with people (antagonistic, competitive, loving, …), how well you are currently able to travel in order to meet people to interact with, etc.
        I’ll agree that Latour is less critical of contemporary society than is warranted, but the theoretical tools he supplies are, imo, quite worthwhile, and can just as easily be used to criticize his as other people’s thinking.

        Comment by Foppe — August 14, 2011 @ 2:31 am

      • Foppe:

        Well, Latour’s just stretching the definition of terms to the point of meaninglessness. Normal people engaged in meaningful work wouldn’t use the term “bondage” to describe the experience of the people and activities they love, even if an ivory tower nihilist could technically label it that.

        So in that case, what wouldn’t be bondage? And if everything’s bondage, then what information is conveyed by calling anything bondage? I could just as well call everything a “pencil”, and be just as profound.

        I haven’t read Latour, but you say he’s an implicit apologist for the system? I can well believe it. I can probably write the implicit thesis myself: “Don’t worry about your bondage within this system. Rather, focus on all the ways you’ll be in bondage within any way of life which may sound more free and meaningful from your current vantage point. I’ll point them out to you. Wanting change is pointless, because there is no change, only bondage.”

        Wb:

        That’s right, negative freedom is nothing in itself, but only a means toward the positive freedom of meaningful work and participation in the human experience. This includes any meaningful goal one has for one’s life.

        And you’re right about the freedom involved in not being a slave to material things. One of the most obscene lies of the criminals is the Freedom is Slavery involved in the inversion Consumerism = Freedom. Um, no. Quite the opposite. (And did you see that swine who even went so far as to say Forced Commodification = Freedom.)

        And to reply to something I didn’t get to within the NC thread, I specified that free will is scientifically a false idea, and then moved on to its philosophical/psychological/political implications.

        There doesn’t need to be a goal, other than complete acceptance of one’s human condition, that being is sufficient unto itself. If you want some larger goal ( change the world, soceity, culture, the system, whatever ) then it provides a stance from which to step forward, and a secure base to which to return.

        I’d say acceptance of the humanity of oneself and others is a very large goal. Look how rare it is today, and how viciously the elites attack any idea or practice of such acceptance.

        Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 5:53 am

      • Russ: I disagree.. Yes, Latour very much enjoys being contrarian, so that he often strikes people as quite obnoxious in how he defines terms. But he is also just being a sociologist, who tries to point out that the difference between good and bad societies is in the kinds of relationships one is in, rather than in the fact that one has relationships. Everyone has relationships, and not all of them are harmful. Therefore, you are more free if you are in certain kinds of relationships than in others. From the negative conception of freedom it follows that you are freest when you are utterly alone on an island; from his conception (and Toby also notes this) it follows that you would be utterly helpless and hardly human if you did live alone.

        As for his being an apologist: yes and no. With regard to political organization, he partially is, but he also offers his readers useful tools with which to criticize his own, and other people’s work. And it is because of those tools that I find his work quite interesting. He mostly just strikes me as a strange kind of nerd/technocrat who is desperately trying to remain apolitical (he’s also a Frenchman).

        Comment by Foppe — August 14, 2011 @ 6:27 am

      • But he is also…[trying] to point out that the difference between good and bad societies is in the kinds of relationships one is in, rather than in the fact that one has relationships. Everyone has relationships, and not all of them are harmful. Therefore, you are more free if you are in certain kinds of relationships than in others.

        That sounds right. So he too implicitly agrees that it’s meaningless to call all relationships “bondage”, but only the harmful ones, which was my point.

        I agree, there’s plenty of tools which can be useful regardless of the intentions of those who forged them. To give an obvious example, I’m satisfied that any constructive use of the MMT idea will be completely independent of and counter to the agenda of the MMTers themselves.

        He mostly just strikes me as a strange kind of nerd/technocrat who is desperately trying to remain apolitical

        Certainly impossible today. And I find it hard to believe that anyone still thinks it is possible. Indeed, that any action, or mere inaction, necessarily boosts some interest is by now a truism bordering on cliche (but nevertheless always true). But then, you did say he’s an inveterate contrarian, so maybe he’s delusional on that point.

        Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 7:30 am

    • The ego needs to feel it has agency, yet the simple fact that there can be no uncaused cause, that we cannot know what information leads to our thoughts being as they are, just as we cannot detect what ’causes’ us to want to stand up and walk down the beach is proof enough for me this agency is an illusion. We are not individuals in the sense modern popular culture promotes that idea, even though we are, as everything is, unique. We are as adrift as fallen leaves in autumn, it just doesn’t seem that way. What allows us to feel free is the basic unpredictability of life, the juicy chaos that can manifest as creativity, and which we experience as change. Were it not for this there would be nothing at all I believe, a universe of perfect uniformity, for there needs to be discernible difference as generated by perpetual change for there to be perception and mind at all. Challengingly our entire cultural lexicon tells us, implicitly and explicitly, that we have agency as individuals, and that we therefore have culpability. I no longer think we do. We have agency as a collective at best, as a network, rather like starlings assuming those amazing shapes in the sky in reaction to all sorts of environmental stimuli. The network is the web which gives us form, direction and ‘meaning.’ Nothing makes sense in isolation. What would a human be in a total vacuum? Mess. What is a human raised by dogs in a shed in outback Russia? Left long enough in those conditions there will be no upright walking, no competent language skills, no human socialization possible. We grow into our environments from the network of our surroundings as trees grow out of soil and into the windy spaces around them. Just because we ‘self’-locomote does not mean we are freer than trees. We are always and only reacting, never acting.

      Then comes politics, and right and wrong. The human sense of fairness TaoJonesing referenced over at NakedCapitalism is fascinating, but newborns do not have it, at least, how could we test that they do. They need to grow up in the right conditions for this ‘moral’ sense to develop. In the end, it is because we can discuss, because we do have ‘high’ culture and civilization that makes discussing morality and freedom both relevant and inescapable. And while there is no real ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’, there is the obvious fact that we are, for a myriad of reasons, a social animal. This begets morality and the complications that arise from that. We are also capable of joy, and that is a gift of Universe I am profoundly grateful for. Gratitude itself is another. And perceiving beauty. And so on. And these form the basis for a more anarchic foundation to societal structures I suspect is the healthiest way forwards since it offers us the best chance of a sustainable future best equipped to allow us as much beauty, joy and gratitude as possible. ‘Freedom’ need have nothing to do with it, in the strict sense discussed above.

      Comment by Toby — August 14, 2011 @ 2:04 am

      • We are always and only reacting, never acting

        To a large degree, yes. However, there’s no good reason not to just redefine the word ‘act’ in such a way that this ‘debt’ that the actor owes to the context in which she is embedded once this is recognized. Because (and this is where I disagree somewhat) there is certainly some degree of choice within most contexts, even if they are also limited. E.g., you’re the one who chose the contents of the post you wrote, which would’ve been different had I chosen to cite a different book, or a different section. Similarly, had your PC died while typing it you could’ve tried to fix it, and forgotten to post here, or you could have asked a neighbor whether you could borrow his PC for a spell — though this in turn depends on the relationship you have with your neighbor, the weather (say, a thunderstorm going on at the time), the state your refrigerator was in (perhaps you really needed to go shopping anyway, and you were delaying doing so because your computer was working, allowing you to visit these websites), etc. etc. Your day could’ve gone different in many ways, but there is certainly some room for ‘actions’. Just actions aided and partially informed by your environment.

        Comment by Foppe — August 14, 2011 @ 2:26 am

      • The human sense of fairness TaoJonesing referenced over at NakedCapitalism is fascinating, but newborns do not have it, at least, how could we test that they do. They need to grow up in the right conditions for this ‘moral’ sense to develop.

        It’s true that nature needs the right nurture, but I’d say (and Tao would probably agree) that the “right” conditions are anything which allows for an ingrained resiliency to assert itself. That’s all anyone can reasonably ask of what’s innate to us, as far as satisfying the definition of innate. Your example of being literally raised in a cage is an ultra-extreme example which doesn’t invalidate any basic propositions. I’d say that today’s combination of institutionalized psychopathy and relentless lower-level coercion (Wolin’s “inverted totalitarianism”) is also getting to be an extreme environment, and yet the basic spirit of fairness and cooperation still widely exists, at least as an ideal (though unfortunately something not many people seem inclined to fight for, not yet). This implies that the spirit is deeply ingrained in us, that it’s so resilient in the face of decades of relentless hostility from its environment.

        Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 5:45 am

      • Hi all, phew, lots of deep stuff to contemplate, food for my brain today, and comforting that you folks think at these levels of quality… I recall Bruno Latour being recommended and quoted many years ago in a discussion about Heidegger on archaeological theory stuff, but I’ve yet to read him, so can’t comment… just too much to read 🙂
        Just to introduce myself, ancient website I began and abandoned, couple of things embarrass me now, but most I can comfortably stand by
        http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~chrislees/tao.index.html
        Nowadays I’m mostly hereabouts, since a piece I wrote is in Dark Mountain 2
        http://www.dark-mountain.net/blog/

        Toby and Foppe both mention the idea of isolation, suggesting negative results… mmm, I’ve deliberately isolated myself, following influences such as the taoist hermit idea, or buddhist seclusion, because it is impossible to pursue serious spiritual exploration if constantly distracted by people. But another influence… hahaha, I’ve been engaged in acrimony with someone who is fearful that the country (UK) is being invaded by foreigners, which is kinda funny, because for me, the country has already been invaded and conquered and occupied by a hostile foreign culture, before i was born, they are all the people I’ve found living here ( apart from a handful of remarkable exceptions ), so I’m almost as anti-social as Ted K.,( although I differ on fundamental issues ), and my companionship comes mainly from other species. I don’t find any of the negative results. It’s great ! 🙂 A bit like those sensory deprivation baths that were popular years ago, people imagined they’d die or go insane, but it’s not like that at all. Just takes courage and curiosity, and being able to handle being out on the borderlines between bliss, awe, terror, ecstasy, hysterical laughter 🙂

        Don’t know if I go along with Toby’s idea :

        “The ego needs to feel it has agency, yet the simple fact that there can be no uncaused cause, that we cannot know what information leads to our thoughts being as they are, just as we cannot detect what ’causes’ us to want to stand up and walk down the beach is proof enough for me this agency is an illusion. We are not individuals in the sense modern popular culture promotes that idea, even though we are, as everything is, unique. We are as adrift as fallen leaves in autumn, it just doesn’t seem that way.”

        Nicely expressed and stimulating to think about. Didn’t David Hume demolish that cause/effect thing ? Scientists need it, or else their whole paradigm collapses, but doesn’t quantum mechanics also shake the foundations ?
        I mean, it’s been clearly demonstrated experimentally, on objects just about visible to the naked eye, that the one thing can be in two places at the same time… isn’t that telling us that our old philosophical paradigm of reality needs revision ?

        And then there’s the problem of language. I’m trying to talk to you guys about stuff that is incomprehensible, or barely comprehensible, and all I’ve got is this english text which often seems as much a barrier to communication as a help.

        http://edge.org/conversation/how-does-our-language-shape-the-way-we-think

        I like to study the animals and birds, wild and domesticated, observing behaviour. Everything is signalling to everything else, all the time. Biosemiotics. I couldn’t do that if there were people around. This is one of my major gripes. The general popular ideas, including most scientists, about animals and birds are completely wrong, but so deeply engrained it’s almost impossible to discuss. Goes way back too, I’m just reading up on the ‘nature fakers controversy’…

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_fakers_controversy

        okay, way off topic, and I must go out and work, mulch apple trees and cut wood, etc, so bye for now,

        wolfbird.

        Comment by wb — August 14, 2011 @ 7:34 am

      • The David Hume bit, re cause and effect :

        a.) “All reasonings concerning matter of fact [the empirical reality] seem to be founded on the relation of Cause and Effect.”
        b.) “I shall venture to affirm, as a general proposition, which admits of no exception, that the knowledge of this relation is not, in any instance, attained by reasonings a priori [i.e. demonstrative or deductive reasoning]; but arises entirely from experience, when we find, that any particular objects are constantly conjoined [in the temporal course] with each other” (p. 17).
        Now why not attainable by demonstrative reasoning? “Were any object presented to us, and were we required to pronounce concerning the effect, which will result from it, without consulting past observation [experience]… [the mind] must invent or imagine some event, which it ascribes to the object as its effect; and it is plain that this invention must be entirely arbitrary [i.e., no wise guaranteed by the certainty of demonstrative reasoning]… For the effect is totally different from the cause, and consequently can never be discovered in it”

        http://www.theophoretos.hostmatrix.org/hume.htm

        Comment by wb — August 14, 2011 @ 8:47 am

      • Hi wolfbird, I don’t think anyone was saying that individualistic isolation is the wrong aspiration for each and every individual. (At least I wasn’t saying that.) Indeed, that’s a fallacy typical of those who don’t understand or pretend not to understand statistical arguments. The same goes for philosophical propositions in general.

        I can’t speak for Toby, but I view cause and effect as a heuristic and nothing more. That’s basically what Hume said was all it could be. As for physicists, Nietzsche berated them for considering their “laws” to be real laws as opposed to descriptive heuristics.

        Indeed, N thought a higher stage of moral development would be what he called the extra-moral point of view which would recognize, among other things, that the causes that go into things are so overdetermined as to be inscrutable (if one’s really seeking “the” truth), while the effects reverberate so far out eternally as also to be unforeseeable (the butterfly effect, but a century before that metaphor was invented).

        However, it looks to me like we’re not evolving toward this extra-moral stage after all, but actually revolving back to what N called the morality of mores. I’d be surprised if no one had speculated about that at Dark Mountain.

        Are you the same person who linked this blog a few times from Dark Mountain? Somebody did, months ago.

        That’s a good site, and I like the Uncivilization manifesto. It’s still on my blogroll but I haven’t visited in awhile.

        Here’s my post summing up my view of Jeffers:

        https://attempter.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/robinson-jeffers-apology-for-bad-dreams/

        Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 10:53 am

      • “I mean, it’s been clearly demonstrated experimentally, on objects just about visible to the naked eye, that the one thing can be in two places at the same time… isn’t that telling us that our old philosophical paradigm of reality needs revision ?”

        That must be that newfangled Mk II eyeball I’ve been hearing so much about!!

        I thought Hume’s causality argument was pretty amazing when I first read it in highschool. At the same time, it doesn’t and can’t inform action, or our models about the world, except to remind us not to reify our perceptions of causal relationships. I think it should also remind us that deterministic models, particularly for complex natural phenomena (in particular, the things humans actually spend most of their time worrying about), are necessarily imbued with a kind of hubris. It’s strange that we still often hear deterministic models of the way humans behave- the implications of quantum mechanics still haven’t been well integrated into behavioural neurobiology. One of the interesting consequences of quantum mechanical theory is that molecular systems consisting of small numbers of interacting constituents, eg neurotransmitters in synapses, do not behave deterministically. There’s a pretty good discussion of this in this paper: http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/~lewis/LewisMacGregor.pdf, where Lewis and MacGregor argue for a quantum indeterminism as the underpinnings of free will.

        Comment by paper mac — August 14, 2011 @ 3:09 pm

      • The human sense of fairness TaoJonesing referenced over at NakedCapitalism is fascinating, but newborns do not have it, at least, how could we test that they do.

        If you assume “fairness” to be a static thing instead of a dynamic process, then you are correct. But I’m referring to fairness as a dynamic process, not a static thing.

        As you say, human beings are always reacting, but they are also always acting. Human beings do not experience life, they interpret it. They are constantly comparing what they observe to what they expect, and the difference between the two, if any, gives rise to an emotion that can lead to action which leads to change.

        But human beings prefer certainty, and they act to reinforce what they believe to be the truth, whether by fooling themselves through confirmation bias or creating rulesets that are self-mediating when the basic function of human cognition is applied. The “mean reversion” we see in stock markets is just an application of the human need to drive certainty, and the human sense of fairness is just another manifestation of that need. All human beings, including newborns, have that need. It is part of their basic cognitive function, which is applied in every decision we make . It is how and why, we learn, act and react. .

        How that “sense of fairness” manifests itself in a society will not always be the same because where you wind up depends upon where you started. The values driven by a society’s institutions powerfully influence expectations and, therefore, actions and reactions to observed differences between facts and expectations. But the fact remains that every society and every individual within a society has an innate sense of fairness– of being certain about what is right and what is wrong– because humanity could not survive without it. That’s why we’re always breaking things down into false dichotomies like action v. reaction (what about non-action?). We can’t know that something is right unless we know that something else is wrong. There cannot be beauty without ugliness.

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — August 14, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

      • Hee hee, the masked theologians never give up, do they? How can random neurotransmission underpin free will? On the contrary, it’s another undercutting of it.

        And what wimps this sort are, trying to reconcile science and theology, feeling the need for scientific proofs of it. My taste in theologians runs to those who have the pride of their irrationalism – “I believe because it’s absurd” Tertullian, or “reason’s a one-eyed whore” Luther.

        In the same vein, the best and most convincing argument against determinism* is Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground, and some similar literary pieces. (Most convincing, but not actually convincing. The Underground Man is at least as much the slave of his predilections as anyone else. What’s wrong in his case is that he doesn’t feel vibrant and alive, but oppressed and cramped. That proves he’s not on his real path of positive will, if he has such a path at all. But the measure of this path is the feeling of vibrance, that one feels strong and healthy in mind and spirit, “that one is overcoming obstacles” as Nietzsche put it.)

        *I’m not arguing for any strong form of historical determinism. More of a chaotic version – there are multiple possible paths, but all within some boundary. Twain’s “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes” is a good description of a Lorenz attractor.

        Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

      • Hi Paper Mac,

        No, regular old-fashioned eyeballs, years ago the guys who know said quantum effects should operate up to amoeba size, about a pin head, just on the threshold of normal visibility, but more recently, this :

        Will try and respond to other points shortly, I still have chores to do here.

        Comment by wb — August 14, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

      • Tao, I posted a reply to you below, trying to start a new branch, since this one’s getting too long.

        Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

      • Hi again paper mac,

        You said :

        “I thought Hume’s causality argument was pretty amazing when I first read it in highschool. At the same time, it doesn’t and can’t inform action, or our models about the world, except to remind us not to reify our perceptions of causal relationships. I think it should also remind us that deterministic models, particularly for complex natural phenomena (in particular, the things humans actually spend most of their time worrying about), are necessarily imbued with a kind of hubris. It’s strange that we still often hear deterministic models of the way humans behave- the implications of quantum mechanics still haven’t been well integrated into behavioural neurobiology. One of the interesting consequences of quantum mechanical theory is that molecular systems consisting of small numbers of interacting constituents, eg neurotransmitters in synapses, do not behave deterministically.”

        I’ve bookmarked the L and M pdf to read later. Is that the same idea as Penrose and Rushkoff ? Microtubules ? Yes, I think all the sciences have yet to take the quantum stuff on board, even physics :-), let alone our common everyday worldviews. I mean, the extreme weirdness is difficult to integrate…

        I don’t quite see why you are so convinced that Hume’s argument can’t inform our life in the everyday world ?

        My take on Hume, it’s philosophy, i.e. carefully selected words logically arranged in precise order, like a mathematical equation, trying to pin down an aspect of reality with maximim clarity. ( also I think we need to recall the context, at that time people got tortured to death for radical ideas that didn’t fit the cultural norm ). So I see it as mental modelling, as you mention. I then see it as the map/territory thing. The models are more or less useful, but never one to one with reality. So I go with Wittgenstein, we overlay our word maps upon the raw reality, which, in itself, is unknowable, utterly mysterious.

        Now, today, we hit the crazy stuff science finds, like the time lag before decisions become conscious, like quantum entanglement, etc, which, to me, say that our common models are, well, inadequate and probably obsolete. I mean, the common popular culturally constructed model taught by schools and parents and society derives from stuff that’s rooted in ideas from centuries ago, even millennia, back to Christ and the ancient Greeks, with all kinds of accumulated junk just unconsciously presumed…

        Comment by wb — August 14, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

  2. I’m with you WB. Sometimes I find it hard to remember my inherent beingness, though. Peace to you and all my friends here that yearn for a healthy, vibrant planet. I’m psyched today because the 7 degrees of separation have proven to me to be 3 and 4 today. With an N of 20. That’s one 3 and one 4; and I didn’t get to talk with everyone. Our commonality is that we believe in Community Gardens; and I’m talking worldwide, Left coast v. East africa.

    Comment by tawal — August 13, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

    • Peace to you too, tawal. We have a community garden, although I don’t personally have a plot in it (have one at home).

      Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 5:45 am

    • Hi tawal,

      Thanks for the sentiment. I think re ‘remembering inherent beingness’, I train constantly, it’s a skill, like being able to juggle plates or play an instrument, the more you do it, the easier it gets, ‘every minute zen’ 🙂

      http://www.serenereflections.ca/Articles/2006/EveryMinuteMeditation.html

      Comment by wb — August 14, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

  3. We can’t know that something is right unless we know that something else is wrong. There cannot be beauty without ugliness.

    Those derivations are true for most people, which is why what’s really true and important is:

    1. What we choose as the right and the wrong, the beautiful and the ugly. As I claimed above, the cooperative, social versions of these are ingrained in us, and have taken a vast amount of propaganda and coercion to somewhat erode out of us. But our nature is still highly resilient. That’s why such totalitarian economic (and probably physical) coercion will be necessary to render us serfs again.

    2. That we strive to reverse those derivations, render them affirmative rather than negative.

    https://attempter.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/positive-freedom-nietzsche-marx-and-anarchism/

    Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

    • For me, what is right and what is beautiful are the same: allowing humans to be human.

      Unfortunately, I don’t think we know how to do that, as part of the certainty we manufacture through our fictions is forcing others to adopt our fictions in place of their own.

      Our delusions won’t let us let others live with their own.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — August 14, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

      • That’s one reason, a negative one, why relocalization and true democracy are the best goals. If nothing else, their structural barriers against wealth and power concentration would make it much harder for one delusion to seek to dominate people outside it.

        Of course, I’d hate for such a frightened reason to be my main reason to fight for that cause, and it’s not one of the main reasons for me. But it’s there as well.

        Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 1:45 am

  4. Hi Russ,

    Mighty moon here tonight. I’ll try and catch up with some of your earlier points.

    The individual isolation point seems to have come adrift from the origin, that ‘no man is an island’, I think Toby said ‘raised by dogs in a shed’,
    then not a complete being, etc. We’re basically social animals, and, in theory, my ideal would be for everyone to live in convivial communities, I’ve tried it, and in practice I’m misanthropic, alienated, disgusted by my fellow humans, life is too short to f**k about, so, like the trad shaman, I’m out of the flock, tribe, village, and into the mountains where I can live on my own terms…for twenty years now.

    Don’t know if it was me that linked to your blog, could have been, I don’t recall.

    I read your piece on Jeffers. Yes, good. 🙂

    Comment by wb — August 14, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

    • That could be a good kind of life. I once dreamed of doing something like that myself. But I never saw how, and then became interested in other things. You recognize that community is best for people in general. I think some of the objections here are to those who not only want solitude for themselves but attack the ideal of community as well. I used to participate at a forum called Life After the Oil Crash (it’s still on my blogroll over there). One of the reasons I stopped hanging out there was because there were so many people planning to hide in holes and who spit on the idea of trying to organize to fight the kleptocracy (they understood it perfectly well), and indeed on the very idea of rebuilding communities.

      Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

      • Yeah, Thoreau, Himalayan hermits, Robinson Crusoe, all very romantic and appealing…

        Came about partly by my own determination, partly by the flow of the Tao, or Fate, or God’s Will, or whatever you wanna call it…

        Yes, I have the romantic notion of a happy, healthy community, where everyone is trusted, unselfish, helping one another…

        Trouble is, there’s the lumpen proletariat at the bottom, junkies, petty thieves, scroungers, liars, etc, and the snobs and rich people at the top, who are selfish, mean, greedy, grasping, egotistical, self-indulgent, generally unattractive, and then there’s the average in the middle, more or less honourable, trying hard to conform, bring up their kids, hold down a job, afford an annual holiday… man like me doesn’t fit comfortably anywhere in that schema. Much of my life, I thought it was my fault, and struggled to find a slot, but then I realized it was ‘them’ that’s faulty, so I gave up that effort, and just went my own way. No regrets.

        But one person isn’t a viable unit. Traditional villages and hamlets would be nice. Some neighbours have achieved it.

        http://www.brithdirmawr.co.uk/index.html

        Comment by wb — August 14, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

  5. To clarify what I said above about that report positing quantum-freewill, there’s no reason to go looking for more phony proofs of something like free will except out of some ulterior political motive. Needless to say, it’s only the non-rich who are ever expected to exercise “free will” against their inclinations. Has anyone ever seen it used otherwise than as this pro-elite club? Not me. In fact, the only people I’ve ever seen passionately arguing on behalf of free will are those who would never actually have to exercise it, since their personal beliefs and inclinations were always in perfect accord with what the mainstream power system wanted. Quite a coincidence, that.

    So that’s why I’m immediately hostile toward all such arguments.

    Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 6:05 pm

    • I’m honestly not sure what you’re reacting against here. All the paper says is that neurological phenomena are inherently indeterministic, and that therefore biological determinism (which is definitely an elitist position) is untenable.

      Comment by paper mac — August 15, 2011 @ 12:25 am

      • But how (and more importantly why?) does one make the leap from an alleged disproof* of, not biological determinism (a straw man in this context, though I agree it too is generally used for elitist purposes), but simply the basic vector of neurology, to the philosophical/theological term “free will” (and right in the first paragraph, as opposed to some kind of “Philosophically Speculative Appendix” or something)? Are you saying you don’t find that pseudo-scientific and obviously angling for funding from sources who are, shall we say, not particularly interested in scientific truth?

        *Rather tendentious – how are a few indeterminate transmissions anything more than meager noise amid the adaptive neurological function? Just because black holes may radiate a few subatomic particles doesn’t mean they don’t have tremendous gravitation after all.

        Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 1:38 am

      • Hmm- I think Lewis and MacGregor’s argument is that synapses as a whole operate indeterministically, not that indeterministic firing is some small subset of neural function. You could argue, I suppose, that there’s some cutoff in synapse size where you make that transition from an indeterministic small-number system to a probablistic large-number system, but the numbers they’re talking about square well with the majority of synapses. The implications of this aren’t clear, but quantum phenomena could provide some insight into how a system that is so frequently viewed as basically deterministic might consciously change itself (superposition of decision states?). In any case, it’s a good example of how the sorts of quantum phenomena wb is interested in are being looked at in an effort to integrate them with models that have previously ignored quantum-scale effects- I don’t claim that it’s anything more than an exploration of that.

        Lewis and MacGregor’s main line of inquiry is just neural systems modeling, and I very much doubt that this paper (which is pretty unusual and doesn’t contain any novel material) ever went on a grant application (no novelty, no money- no one gets grants for writing reviews). That said, I don’t think that attempting to reconcile neurophysiological evidence and computational modelling of neurological phenomena with philosophical notions of free will is inherently pseudoscientific (leaving aside demarcation issues). I sincerely doubt that neuroscience will ever be reconciled satisfactorily with our lived experience of mind, or with various philosophical traditions, but I don’t see anything wrong with trying. I’m more-or-less an epistemological anarchist, I don’t think there’s anything particularly sacrosanct about scientific or philosophical thought that requires a barrier between these traditions. Indeed, I’ve always held that if scientists had a better grounding in philosophy, and thought about these issues more, we’d probably have a much more vigorous, less corporatised academy. Pure scientific materialism is ultimately a pretty hollow, callow worldview- it needs to be engaged and challenged by the kinds of problems and thoughts that philosophers and thinkers have been grappling with since time immemorial to be meaningful, and not just left to wallow in the last century’s obsession with reductionist materialism.

        Comment by paper mac — August 15, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

      • Very nicely put, paper mac, and I agree. There are so many anomalous phenomena associated with consciousness ( I mean the parapsychological stuff, precognition, clairvoyance, etc ) which might become explicable, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near even to understanding everyday standard consciousness yet, possibly never will.
        I like ‘epistemological anarchist’, hahaha

        Comment by wb — August 15, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

      • Maybe this is a stupid question, it seeming so obvious and all, but if the major function of the brain were indeterminate, how could it possibly function in a way that sustains life, let alone intelligent life? How would any physiological process consistently work, and how would we have even the illusion of ego and soul? How would we retain memory? How would we learn?

        Prima facie it seems self-evident that the main trend of what happens in the brain is consistent and predictable.

        And I still don’t get even in principle how indeterminacy could mean free will, instead of the radical opposite. That sounds Humpty-Dumpty to me, which is part of why I had an adverse reaction to the notion.

        (I haven’t read the paper and don’t have time to. I just bookmarked a long paper on Biblical debt jubilee, which I probably also won’t get around to.)

        Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

      • I don’t think it’s a stupid question. I don’t think that free will follows necessarily from indeterminate synaptic function. More sophisticated biological determinists (Stephen Hawking is one) take this kind of stuff in stride and refer to the brain as a “complex quantum machine”. Indeterminism becomes pseudo-determinism- we may not be able to predict all subsequent events from an initial state, but we can make probabilistic models of the brain, so therefore it’s a describeable, predictable machine. Myself, I think that argument says a lot more about the arguer than it does about the brain, but there you go.

        In any case, while indeterminate synaptic function doesn’t necessarily imply “free will”, it is required for consciousness to be more than an epiphenomenon, as far as I can see. I think we can agree that, were perfect information about an initial neural state sufficient to predict all subsequent neural states, consciousness necessarily becomes an epiphenomenon. As noted above, in the case of indeterminate synaptic function, consciousness can still be interpreted as an epiphenomenon. I reject this because of a) my lived experience of free will (I note that during the period of my life when I believed consciousness to be an epiphenomenon I excercised far less personal discipline and excercised my will far less frequently than I do now, not that this is evidence to anyone other than myself), b) because neuroscience is unequivocal on the point that conscious experience feeds back on the underlying physical circuitry of the brain, and this is, in my view, irreconcilable with the epiphenomenal hypothesis without some serious Occam’s-grave-spinning logical gymnastics, and c) because I feel that rejecting the experience of consciousness and free will (limited by social circumstance, underlying biophysical circuitry, and experience as it may be) is fundamentally perverse and dehumanising. My general feeling is that, if we can believe that synaptic function is subject to quantum phenomena, and we know that quantum phenomena can include superimposed states, action-at-a-distance, and observer effects, it’s at least plausible that an emergent consciousness could affect its own underlying physical basis.

        The L&M paper doesn’t go quite that far- it basically shows that CNS synaptic function is subject to molecular chaos and stops there, but it’s suggestive, anyway. As an aside, the kinds of synaptic junctions that would be subject to the indeterminate processes L&M describe would be predominantly CNS junctions- small boutons on neurons integrating many inputs, and the like. Larger neuromuscular junctions probably don’t follow the same rules, since they’re releasing vast quantities of neurotransmitter to get muscle contraction going- that’s interesting in and of itself, as we can imagine the “decision” to move being subject to indeterminacy, but once the decision gets past a certain point, it’s committed.

        How would any physiological process consistently work,

        To this point, which is at least at my paygrade, it’s worth noting that basically every molecular physiological process occurs at scales that render them dependent on stochastic molecular chaos, quantum effects, or other indeterminate systems. This includes ligand interactions with receptors (not as though a neurotransmitter has any info about where the receptor is or what alignment it needs to be in to get in the binding pocket, it’s subject to chaotic diffusion across the synaptic cleft), enzymatic reactions, etc. Probably most notably, photosynthesis is an incredibly elaborate process of moving electrons (the quintessential quantum everywhere-and-nowhere wave-particle) around in a directed manner. Biological systems are exceptionally good at sifting a semblance of order out of molecular chaos, but we shouldn’t let that fool us into thinking that the underlying physical processes are themselves orderly.

        Comment by paper mac — August 16, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

      • c) because I feel that rejecting the experience of consciousness and free will (limited by social circumstance, underlying biophysical circuitry, and experience as it may be) is fundamentally perverse and dehumanising.

        I guess that really goes to the core of it. If people find the idea that consciousness is an epiphenomena to be dehumanizing, they’ll look for ways to redeem its status. (Although it also sounds like maybe you use the term “free will” to connote something less than the usual theological-philosophical connotation. Maybe our positions are actually pretty close, but we just use terms differently. Like the way anarchists often quibble about terms like “power”, “authority”, even “government”. Maybe in our dispute here I’ve been taking a terminological stance opposite from the one I take on the first two of those three terms. In that case, maybe I shouldn’t be so hostile to the very term “free will”.)

        It’s like the way Tennyson was honest in admitting that even though on an intellectual level he accepted Darwinism, he viscerally disliked it because it “diminishes my humanity” (not the exact quote, but very close to that). Nietzsche called it “true but deadly” for the same reason (he himself didn’t feel that way, but was referring to how most others did, and how this would intensify nihilism; it went to “God is dead”).

        I agree with Darwin in not seeing how Darwinism is dehumanizing, and with Nietzsche in not seeing how the epiphenomenality of consciousness is dehumanizing. What makes me human, the imperatives of my spirit, are not “chosen” by my consciousness. They drive it. If anything, I’ve come to feel more humanistically integrated and holistic since I “found myself”. It was prior to that, when I didn’t know who I was, and in practice felt that consciousness could “choose” anything it wanted, that I felt I was drifting like an animal removed from its habitat.

        So it sounds like my personal experience has been the opposite of yours. An outsider to the whole discussion would say both our “ideologies” on this point follow from the needs of our individual psychological makeup, and are therefore symptoms, effects, not objective truths.

        My question about physiological processes was about what seems to be self-evidently true that quantum unpredictability at the subatomic level does not become prevalent enough that it affects predictability at the molecular level. To use the truism, classical physics “works” at that level. (I’m actually not sure what’s the utility of quantum theory at all from any non-corporatist perspective. Somewhere I wrote a comment to the effect that post-Peak Oil, once there’s no longer resources for toys like particle colliders, which will always be tools of power, quantum theory will return to its normal historical level, that of philosophy.)

        b) because neuroscience is unequivocal on the point that conscious experience feeds back on the underlying physical circuitry of the brain, and this is, in my view, irreconcilable with the
        epiphenomenal hypothesis without some serious Occam’s-grave-spinning logical gymnastics

        The reminds me of the place of the “superstructure” in regular Marxism. Although its original existence and forms are dictated by the economic relations, once it exists it then has reciprocal effects on these relations. It’s a dialectical relationship. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a superstructure whose existence still derives from those economic structures.

        Again, I admit I don’t see the logical problem you allude to. Conscious experience is part of the self-evolving neural process.

        Comment by Russ — August 17, 2011 @ 3:23 am

      • Hi paper mac,

        Very interesting, I’m impressed, particularly the point about how photosynthesis manages electrons…

        Also, the ‘paygrade’ bit, hahaha… I must now confess that I have never been to University, nor hold any degree or similar qualifications, however, I was what I believe the Americans call a ‘campus brat’ so I had free access to the facilities and the people, without any formal right to use them. I chose to become a carpenter and joiner, because I found that more interesting than academia. I’d say the experience gave me a reasonable, if somewhat unorthodox, general education, and a broad view of soceity, from the most highly qualified and privileged to the bottom of the working class.

        So now, I’d like to ask you something, because you have knowledge of neurology. I suffer from a rare disease called chronic cluster headache ( and also migraine ), which means that, at least twice every 24 hours, I have a period of extreme pain. Extreme means just that, 10 out of 10 on the pain scale. Reduces me to a gibbering nothing. Except that I have medicine, zolmitriptan nasal sprays, which mitigate the pain somewhat, but give bad side effects. That’s for the acute attack. I also take methysergide, a chemical related to lysergic acid, meant as a prophylactic, also with bad side effects. I have to take both chemicals in quantities many times above the maximum recommended safe dose, at levels which are considered highly dangerous, but seems I have no choice, because otherwise the pain just continues indefinitely and I’d have no life at all.

        So, with my limited education, I have researched brain chemistry, etc, to try and understand this disease, approaching the subject with due humility as a non-specialist, and expecting those who are at the designated paygrade to be able to help. Turns out nobody has got a clue !

        Hypothalamus, serotonin, calcium channels, bla, bla, bla, it seems it’s as complicated as photosynthesis and, rather similar to your idea of trying to match up your lived experience to your theoretical, intellectual understanding, I sit here quietly sobbing and holding my head trying to explain to my poor battered being why this happens… It is a strange way to live. 🙂

        So, my question would be, given your obvious intellectual ability and insights, would you like to hazard a guess as to how cluster headache works ? (Hope nobody is offended that this is off topic).

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cluster_headache

        http://www.blinkx.com/watch-video/cluster-headaches-my-pov-on-excruciating-pain/AzfyWpSlnrRppH3gk1_yFg

        http://www.blinkx.com/watch-video/cluster-headache-australia/it0-wzUN7bsGRbvRxghLzg

        http://www.blinkx.com/watch-video/cluster-headache/ep119hHQ-GB9VPONodK0xg

        Comment by wb — August 17, 2011 @ 3:59 am

      • The reminds me of the place of the “superstructure” in regular Marxism. Although its original existence and forms are dictated by the economic relations, once it exists it then has reciprocal effects on these relations. It’s a dialectical relationship. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a superstructure whose existence still derives from those economic structures.

        Again, I admit I don’t see the logical problem you allude to. Conscious experience is part of the self-evolving neural process.

        I could be wrong, but I don’t think this position is cognate to what is normally referred to as epiphenomenalism- my understanding was that epiphenomenalists hold that conscious experience had zero impact on the underlying physical circuitry (the single piece of evidence that gets bandied about is the detection of motor action potentials before the self-report of decision to act). In other words, that consciousness is literally an illusion and is of no significance to the underlying physical processes. If you hold that conscious experience itself forms part of an integrated structure with neural circuitry, I think that describes a substantially different position- one with which I agree. I’m definitely not arguing that consciousness is in any way seperate from its neurophysiological basis, merely that it is a real, significant, functionally important process, rather than an interesting light show which happens secondarily to the inexorable deterministic grinding of the neural machinery. My problem with epiphenomenalism is that it ignores a huge amount of evidence which suggests that subjective experience profoundly affects neural function, which is incoherent if you’re positing that consciousness arises as a secondary phenomenon which has no effect on neurophysiology. Either consciousness is embedded within, or emergent from those processes, but the bizarre dualism of ephiphenomenalism, where consciousness is confined to some parallel existence is, to me, dehumanising.

        Basically my position is that
        -consciousness is emergent from neurophysiological processes
        -consciousness affects and is affected by neurophysiological processes
        -a consciousness can, being self-aware, may choose to alter its own underlying neurophysiology

        You’re right that my use of the term “free will” isn’t a standard one, I think, but that’s what I mean by it.

        My question about physiological processes was about what seems to be self-evidently true that quantum unpredictability at the subatomic level does not become prevalent enough that it affects predictability at the molecular level.

        No, there’s basically no predictability at the molecular level. You can’t sit there and say, ok, that ligand molecule is going to bind that receptor protein. All of these processes are stochastic and are only predictable when you abstract out to the level of whole cells and tissues. So you can say, ok, this population of 10000 receptors has some probability of creating a signal of x amplitude over y time when exposed to z ligand concentration, but there’s no way of predicting which receptors will be activated, whether or not their downstream effectors will be in position at the correct time to convey the signal, etc. The upshot of this is that biological systems expend enormous amounts of energy creating highly repetitive, redundant systems so that, on average, signals get through, metabolic processes happen, and so on. Even then, things go array pretty frequently. One of the interesting things about working with fish is that you get to see them develop from a single cell, and you see just how many never make it to anything resembling a full organism. That’s what’s so interesting about the notion of a synapse whose overall function is subject to molecular chaos. In any case, quantum biology and chaos-theory neurobiology are basically non-existent as fields at the moment (and the way things are going, will probably die in their cribs), but it’s interesting to think about.

        Comment by paper mac — August 17, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

      • I guess maybe we also have the same terminological crossing of signals on epiphenomenon. I’m just using it as an English language term, like the way Nietzsche would’ve used whatever German equivalent. I’m not using it in some abstruse technical way.

        I also expressed myself poorly in referring to molecules. I meant the trend of behavior among them as a group, not each individual one (I saw how you and wolfbird were debating how far up the scale the unpredictability goes; I figure I’ve been pretty clear in always referring to main trends at whatever level).

        Basically my position is that
        -consciousness is emergent from neurophysiological processes
        -consciousness affects and is affected by neurophysiological processes
        -a consciousness can, being self-aware, may choose to alter its own underlying neurophysiology

        I don’t disagree with this, although since I consider consciousness itself the manifestation of neurological processes I still wonder (on a philosophical level) about the seemingly unscientific desire to privilege one particular manifestation above others by linguistically separating an implicitly elevating it.

        As far as politics goes, it’s simply a fact of life that we have to at least pretend this consciousness has a privilege. One thing that frustrates me about the Jensens and so on is how they claim to want to fight, but also insist on pre-crippling rhetorical devices which are, in my opinion, gratuitous and even self-indulgent, like wanting people to admit in principle that we’re not “above” the rest of the animals in any way. To apply Nietzsche’s quote to the politics of this, “true but deadly”. I’ll be happy if we can achieve a healthier practical mindset which implies a less predatory principle. I won’t insist on being purist in word as well as deed from Day One.

        Comment by Russ — August 18, 2011 @ 5:34 am

  6. No, regular old-fashioned eyeballs, years ago the guys who know said quantum effects should operate up to amoeba size, about a pin head, just on the threshold of normal visibility, but more recently, this :

    http://www.ted.com/talks/aaron_o_connell_making_sense_of_a_visible_quantum_object.html

    You definitely can’t “see” O’Connell’s quantum machine vibrating, and not only because you can’t have light in the experimental chamber or the vibrating platform decoheres- it’s vibrating at 6 million Hz, on an angstrom scale. Because the material is piezoelectric, it produces detectable emissions, but it’s not like you’re able to actually look at something and see it in two places at once. It’s worth noting that the only way you can get these kinds of phenomena to occur is to perform the experiment at near-absolute zero, in a vacuum, in complete darkness, so as to ensure the object is at quantum ground state. Under actually liveable conditions, quantum effects are of much less importance than ambient energy conditions. I routinely image nanometer-scale objects, so I can testify to the fact that quantum effects are basically irrelevant at that scale under normal conditions. Amoebas are usually a couple hundred microns in diameter, and definitely aren’t experiencing macroscopic quantum effects. Maybe you could get one to do some weird stuff like O’Connell’s machine at near-absolute-zero, but it wouldn’t be much of an amoeba anymore..

    I’ve bookmarked the L and M pdf to read later. Is that the same idea as Penrose and Rushkoff ? Microtubules ? Yes, I think all the sciences have yet to take the quantum stuff on board, even physics , let alone our common everyday worldviews. I mean, the extreme weirdness is difficult to integrate…

    I think you mean Penrose and Hameroff’s model. The Lewis and MacGregor paper is quite different. P&H basically posited that there was something in addition to synaptic transmission going on that explains consciousness and indeterminism, and decided microtubules might fit the bill. Although it’s an interesting theory, there’s basically no biological support for this notion, and it suffers from, as above, the fact that to get the kinds of effects P&H’s theory (referred to as Orch-OR) requires, you have to be operating under conditions that neurons don’t (absolute zero, etc). The quantum effects P&H posit decohere at timescales that are far too short to have any kind of effect on synaptic processing. L&M are, by contrast, positing that synaptic signalling itself is indeterministic.

    I don’t quite see why you are so convinced that Hume’s argument can’t inform our life in the everyday world ?

    Well, maybe I’m just not imaginative enough- how do you live differently now that you know that causality can’t be directly experienced?

    In any case, I agree with you about models being more or less useful, but not mapping one-to-one with reality. I’ve had a tough time grappling with my lived experience of free will and the models I’ve been exposed to in studying neurobiology. It’s hard to say how biological phenomena interact with quantum effects, because it’s hard to get evidence for these interactions, but it’s pretty interesting to think about. There was some nice work done recently showing that some birds navigate by virtue of a retinal protein which uses quantum entanglement to make a little molecular compass. Makes you wonder what sorts of weird quantum phenomena affect cognition.

    Comment by paper mac — August 15, 2011 @ 12:53 am

    • Hi paper mac,

      I didn’t intend to imply, in my initial point re ‘amoeba size’, that because of quantum effects, one’s eyes would see two amoebas where only one existed. My point was really that the general view was that quantum effects are only significant at the much smaller scale of electrons and photons. The whole ‘amoeba thing’ is an unfortunate distraction, and derives from a discussion I had with a particle physicist, about 15 years ago, who explained to me that quantum effects might be perceivable at a certain scale, and he mentioned the amoeba as illustration of that size, because I was more familiar with biological organisms.

      Anyway, yes, I meant Hameroff. Stupid mistake. I’ve read the Lewis and McGregor paper, thanks for it, very interesting and as enjoyable as reading poetry. I conclude that we are still a long way from understanding the brain/consciousness thing. I see it a bit like the mechanics view of a motor car versus the drivers view of a motorcar. The naive driver doesn’t know or care what happens under the bonnet ( hood ) just as long as the vehicle goes. The mechanic isn’t interested in the destination, but is fascinated by how the the engine functions. Same object, different perspectives.

      “I don’t quite see why you are so convinced that Hume’s argument can’t inform our life in the everyday world ?”
      “Well, maybe I’m just not imaginative enough- how do you live differently now that you know that causality can’t be directly experienced?”

      Wonderful question. One answer, I guess the influence is quite subtle. My father insisted upon a positive realist, Newtonian Machine, type of worldview, which permitted no mystery. Any argument which threatened that perspective would make him lose his temper. It took me a long time to understand why. It had nothing to do with the purity of ideas, it was because, after the uncertainty and chaos of WW2, he had to have a solid philosophical concept to hold to, as a psychological and emotional reassurance. Having grown up under more benign circumstances, I’ve had the luxury of being able to question all fundamental assumptions.

      Comment by wb — August 15, 2011 @ 5:39 am

      • “I didn’t intend to imply, in my initial point re ‘amoeba size’, that because of quantum effects, one’s eyes would see two amoebas where only one existed. My point was really that the general view was that quantum effects are only significant at the much smaller scale of electrons and photons.”

        Sorry I misinterpreted you. I think we’re on the same page.

        I see what you mean now about Hume influencing your life- if he’s made you more open to changing your assumptions about the way the world works, that’s great. Reading your post made me remember that after I wrote a paper on Hume’s causality stuff, I got into a huge argument with my father about it (with him insisting, hilariously in retrospect, that since airplanes reliably fly, Hume’s argument was “a wank”), so I guess it did change my day to day life in a sense, hahaha..

        Comment by paper mac — August 15, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

      • Very cool, paper mac 🙂 Not at all, my fault for muddling the topic.

        I was about eight, had read a bit of Bertrand Russell, was in a car with my father on a long journey, so I asked him if the tree falling in the forest with nobody within earshot would make a sound… He exploded in a rage telling me never to waste time on such rubbish… but, erm, Russell, it said on the book cover, was one of the most eminent thinkers of the twentieth century, rubbish ? I thought it was a wonderful thing to ponder… but we sat in hostile silence for the rest of the journey and I learned not to mention ‘philosophy’ in future…

        Comment by wb — August 15, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  7. Just to expand on my position a little more, since the paucity of what I wrote allows too much room for seeing in it what I did not intend.

    Because there can be no uncaused cause, causal chains and linear thinking must be illogical. I did not raise that point so as to imply I believe in causal chains. At root we humans of the western paradigm think fundamentally incorrectly about reality. This extends also, I believe, to opposites. Tao points out that for beauty to have meaning, it must stand in contrast to ugliness. This drawing of distinctions is an inescapable part of ego-based analysis and perception of the world ‘out there.’ I suspect this is but one of many modes of perception, and taking a drug like LSD supports this suspicion. Currently I am trying to blur opposites (without drugs!), see them as partners, flippable twins joined at the hip, so to speak.

    And that there can be no such thing as free will does not mean we should be nihilistic in our reaction to this observation. As Jung put it, “Free will is doing gladly that which we must do.” To fall back on standard language; we cannot help but (re)act. We are alive of Universe and are driven to be, do and become by virtue of the nature of reality. It is neither passive nor active, it just is. Working at what we become produces joy (and despair, though this depends on the society to a large degree), so I am ‘for’ the creative effort of joyful work as the healthiest way to move through our journey. But relaxation and simple being are part of that too.

    And I agree with Russ that the sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are endemic to us, indeed, I think this sense is inherent (or imminent) in reality; we are proof of that. The nature/nurture split is infuriatingly everywhere. What I meant by the right conditions was simply that we cannot ‘control,’ in the early years of our lives, important variables like air quality, what our parents do to us, the quality of the food we are fed, etc. And also like Russ, I believe the strength of this ‘moral’ urge is great. Furthermore, even after a horrible childhood, humanity has co-evolved with language and other cultural capital to enable incredible healing and processing of trauma, realignment of our psychic landscape, and so on. These things too are gifts, commons if you like, that are evidence of fundamental universal abundance.

    Of course we can debate these things for all time, and the variety of nuance expressed here is testament to the creativity of variety (to be redundant). The impossibility of free will in the classical sense of it as an uncaused cause is really just language-based observation, though it is helpful in creating a new, more humble relationship with the important concept of freedom, and how we set things up at the societal level to sustainably maximize our experience of it. And that, of course, requires of us that we ‘act.’

    Comment by Toby — August 15, 2011 @ 2:08 am

    • Thanks, Toby. All I’d add to that is a clarification of this:

      And that there can be no such thing as free will does not mean we should be nihilistic in our reaction to this observation. As Jung put it, “Free will is doing gladly that which we must do.”

      By “must” we must mean, what our inner freedom and conscience demands of us. It certainly has nothing to do with what aliens would try to impose upon us, but it’s easy to see how the quote could be distorted to that end. That distortion is the kind of “free will” I mentioned earlier.

      Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 3:59 am

    • This extends also, I believe, to opposites. Tao points out that for beauty to have meaning, it must stand in contrast to ugliness. … Currently I am trying to blur opposites. see them as partners, flippable twins joined at the hip.

      If I might make a suggestion: the point is not so much that it should stand in contrast to ugliness; the point is simply that it is a relative (if not relational) observation. That is, it is a value judgment that follows from comparison with other things. A nice-ish book that touches on this is an exegetical work by Latour & Lepinay on the work of the French sociologist Gabriel Tarde. The book is called The Science of Passionate Interests, is only about 100 pages long, and it tries to argue for an infinity of different ‘measures’ in order to facilitate comparison in all kinds of different ways.

      Because there can be no uncaused cause, causal chains and linear thinking must be illogical. I did not raise that point so as to imply I believe in causal chains. At root we humans of the western paradigm think fundamentally incorrectly about reality

      Agreed. Again, forgive me for plugging stuff I’m reading myself on roughly this topic, but I only hope to be of use. I would simply point out a few western authors who took/take the world to be dynamic, and who use relational notions of interaction/causation: A.N. Whitehead (a lecture called “The Concept of Nature”, and his book Process and Reality, Bruno Latour (pretty much all of his work, though the more book mentioned above, or Pandora’s Hope are probably best), and Karl Marx (this one obviously comes with a huge caveat, because pretty much the entire Marxist tradition after Marx did take his historical analysis to be a-historically true, and pretty much everyone takes him for some kind of determinist. Still, it is quite possible to develop a dynamical theory out of his work by seeing how he himself analyzed these situations. For a decent (if perhaps somewhat introductory) lecture on Marx’s method, see this.) He greatly reworked Hegelian dialectical thinking (probably using insights gained through reading Epicurus), but this tends to go unnoticed, as most people just read Hegel ‘to get Marx’, which is a really counterproductive move.

      Comment by Foppe — August 15, 2011 @ 4:15 am

      • No list of the philosophers of dynamism is complete without Nietzsche, without whom 20th century thought on the subject would’ve been impossible (as little credit as he gets for it). Perhaps the most difficult barrier to understanding him (aside from ideological biases) is getting the hang of his perspectivist method. (Most of the allegations that he contradicts himself come from a misunderstanding here.) Every perception is from a point of view, and everything including the viewer is always in motion.

        I’ve never read Feuerbach, but I imagine if one wanted to go back to better understand Marx, that would be a better bet than going to Hegel himself. (And would probably help to understand Hegel as well, who, if he should be read at all, should be read for his own sake, not to better understand Marx. Actually, by now the primal Master-Slave dialectic in Phenomenology of Spirit may be even more relevant than mainstream Marx. Cf. my latest post.)

        Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 4:51 am

      • Thanks for the heads up and tips, Foppe. Actually, I’ve already read and enjoyed “The Science of Passionate Interests” (on your prior advice to someone else on NC I think), but am of the opinion that Tarde’s position is too steeped in scientific positivism. My position here is that we should first accept that value cannot be measured, pretty much by definition really. Measurement proceeds on the assumption of uniformity, which is anathema to nature. Of course it’s powerful to be able to measure, but it is no path to some ultimate “truth”, for multiple reasons. In the end I’m a fan of humility, and one obvious part of that is accepting impotence as part of developing a mature and sustainable potency at the cultural level.

        Comment by Toby — August 15, 2011 @ 6:25 am

      • Toby: Ok. While I see what you mean about positivism, the rest of your statement puzzles me somewhat though.
        I take it you agree that value ascriptions are by definition subjective. What it seems to me follows from this is that we are always able to rank preferences, in whatever way we like. Some will be more widely shared, while others will be very private, but the point is that we can basically compare apples to stereos, and still find it meaningful, depending on the measure we use/construct. The reason why we can do so, though, strikes me not as being about uniformity, but comparability. (I am not sure nature cares what I think about it. :)) And the goal towards which we would be working isn’t truth (in any meaningful sense of the word), but rather the construction of a shared world, understood & constructed through the meanings we ascribe to parts of it (be it nature, congregations of humans living near or far from us, or oil), and the descriptions we give of (parts of) it. (Nor is my point to require universal adoption of that system of ascription/description)
        (The politics of measurement, and the dominance of one measurement system — economics — in particular is another issue that I’d like to leave aside for now, though it’s hard to avoid.)

        Russ: I am relatively unfamiliar with Nietzsche. What works are you thinking of in particular? Or does it just pervade all of his work?
        As for the M-S Dialectic: relevant though it may be, it’s not very empowering 😉

        Comment by Foppe — August 15, 2011 @ 10:35 am

      • Hi Foppe,

        well, I was kind of thinking about the politics of it all, since a monopoly on power is a monopoly also on saying what the truth is. One part of that is the cooption of science, which is, at root, about the measurable (though I think this is changing, and that is really good*).

        Comparison of apples and oranges requires only language, and not necessarily a standard unit or measure. The uniformity I refer to is the unit of measurement itself. One centimeter is always one centimeter, etc. Such identical equivalence occurs nowhere else in nature. Hence (scientific) measurement implies equivalence, which has uniformity somewhere in there, necessarily. Which two leaves have the same dimensions? Which two fingers are exactly the same length? When it comes to value the problem is much worse, and nailing measurement of value down with a unit such as a dollar is about power. The War of Value, or owning society’s definition of value is at the heart of all this corruption and elitism.

        Again, I’m not against science, far from it. What matters to me is making no idol of anything, and keeping perspective, staying humble, that sort of thing.

        *As science gets better at dealing with the immeasurable it will be forced to leave certainty behind, and certainty is, in part, about control, which leads to hierarchy and elitism. The readier we are to embrace uncertainty, the more faith we will have to have in life, in each other, and the more space we will allow each other in which to be. To repeat myself, that is a freedom I can believe in.

        Comment by Toby — August 15, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

      • N’s insistence on the primacy of becoming over being and how there’s no “absolute” truth, morality, etc. but only perspectives*, pervades his work. A few parts I especially recommend are Beyond Good and Evil Parts One (On the Prejudices of the Philosophers), Five (Natural History of Morals), and Six (Our Virtues); Genealogy of Morals Essay III puts on a veritable clinic in the perspectivist method, but the whole book is like that; Twilight of the Idols, “The Problem of Socrates” and “Reason in Philosophy”.

        Those are just a few suggestions, but the threads are constantly present in everything he writes.

        [*This doesn’t contradict my political morality. I argue the moral perspective of healthy, cooperative, productive humanity.]

        When I was thinking of the Hegel, I was thinking in terms of a stark recognition of the confrontation we face. But not being a dogmatic Hegelian, I didn’t mean that a successful revolution must by the laws of the dialectic become the new Master over a new Slave class.

        BTW, I don’t know if you saw my post from a year ago on Marxism and what it means today.

        https://attempter.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/marx-neo-feudalism-and-peak-oil/

        Reading it again, I see that if I were to rewrite it I’d make a few changes, but my basic thesis is still the same.

        This little ditty might also be of interest.

        https://attempter.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/peak-oil-dialectics-vacation-post/

        Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

      • well, I was kind of thinking about the politics of it all, since a monopoly on power is a monopoly also on saying what the truth is. One part of that is the cooption of science, which is, at root, about the measurable (though I think this is changing, and that is really good*).

        Quibble: Not so much what the truth is, but which descriptions to emphasize. Latour/Tarde is a kind of constructivist/realist, not a positivist.

        N’s insistence on the primacy of becoming over being and how there’s no “absolute” truth, morality, etc. but only perspectives*, pervades his work. A few parts I especially recommend are Beyond Good and Evil Parts One (On the Prejudices of the Philosophers), Five (Natural History of Morals), and Six (Our Virtues); Genealogy of Morals Essay III puts on a veritable clinic in the perspectivist method, but the whole book is like that; Twilight of the Idols, “The Problem of Socrates” and “Reason in Philosophy”.

        Will bookmark your suggestion, though I’m still trying to figure out how to relate dynamism to a relational take on interaction. (I suspect you’re on to something, though.)

        BTW, I don’t know if you saw my post from a year ago on Marxism and what it means today.

        Hadn’t seen it, no. Not convinced of the direct connection with the decline of oil-based society, though.. Fossil fuels like coal are still very abundant, etc. More likely it will just mean the end of suburbia (which was a capitalist project of huge proportions), and a switch back to (rail-based) mass transportation. (Which are useful for organization, I suppose.) Taking a cue from Harvey, cities are usually the place where revolutionary/innovation-related things happen (Spaces of Hope); suburban life is much too dispersed to sustain that.

        Comment by Foppe — August 19, 2011 @ 6:19 am

    • Hi Toby,

      You said : “Currently I am trying to blur opposites, see them as partners, flippable twins joined at the hip, so to speak.”

      Can I ask, do you mean you do this as a sort of intellectual exercise ? I mean, is it a ‘thought’ response ?

      If so, it is very different to my own understanding. As I take it, the idea is to be ‘beyond the opposites’, that is, neither black, nor white, yin nor yang, which means to be at the exact centre, not at either pole, equidistant between the twins, – but this isn’t some sort of cognitive prescription at all, it’s a physical thing, as an embodied being, living in one’s senses.

      I see that Foppe has also quoted that line, below, and sees relativity. Nothing wrong with that. We’ve got two concepts, black and white, beauty and ugliness, good v. bad, up versus down, etc. typically considered as opposites, and these concepts are familiar components of our language and thinking and communication. Intellectually, cognitively, they do define each other.

      However, when it comes to taoism and the tao te ching, I think that we are talking about ‘the opposites’ in a somewhat different sense, not conceptual but experienced.
      In this instance, for example, a person hears news and judges it good or bad. This judgement isn’t about the concept, it’s an emotionally based thing, as in feeling happy or sad, confident or afraid, excited or depressed, and it is at that level that the opposites are to be reconciled.
      Does that make sense to you ?

      Comment by wb — August 15, 2011 @ 6:09 am

      • Hi wb,

        well I think the emotional reaction is the emotional reaction. It’s when we come to measurements and scales that we can formulate the notion of “opposite”. Probably that’s too strong. Explicit value judgments are inescapable as soon as we draw distinctions. Experiencing self as separate from not-self, say, as such evolved subsequent to the advent of fire and farming, a.k.a ‘taming the wild and creating a domestic space we ‘control”, intensifies the evolution of causal-chain, linear thinking, which leads to measurement, science, analysis and so on. Opposites arise out of that process organically. The degree to which some absolute reality is accurately described by our interpretation and structurally coupled perception of it (“World and mind arise together”) is impossible to know, because we are it too, so this mental exercise of dissolving opposites into a new relationship with the idea is one part of my development, which is part of Universe. Of course there is nothing new in this, I am no pioneer of thought or anything like that, such that I, you and millions of others playing with these things is ‘out there’ in the cultural lexicon, and is hence more than a ‘mere’ thought game. My belief is that the internet (and other things) will help bring these ‘new’ ways of pondering and perceiving reality quicker to an ever wider audience, again as part of our development. What is clear to me is the need to transition to steady state growth, and that this transition requires the upending of almost all the core (capitalist) concepts that have to do with selfishness, greed, rationality, etc. I think we are moving through the deepest transformation in human history.

        What a convoluted paragraph. I hope you can make some sense of it.

        As to standing in the middle to be beyond opposites suggests to me a position on the scale. In between black and white is grey, between ugly and beauty some ordinary rating of both, neither one nor the other. And I think life requires deep and active involvement. Being ‘apart’ from it, coolly observant, unaffected, ‘spiritual’ and so on, is not my aim. Awareness is its own center anyway, can there be any other? If we attempt to ‘rise above’ opposites we are making a value judgment by trying not to, creating another scale to do with how balanced or unbalanced we are, how centered. We can’t escape value judgments because we are emotional and moral, but we can develop our understanding of them, and the consequences of our existence.

        Either way this is profoundly tricky because we have been raised to think along linear, causal-chain lines. I see myself as an absolute beginner, coming at this from a non-erudite position and learning as I go. Early days, much to do, no doubt my thinking is upside down in all sorts of ways. Thanks for prodding me.

        Comment by Toby — August 15, 2011 @ 6:53 am

      • Hi Toby, and thanks for the interesting reply, and I hope I don’t come across as condescending at all, I’ve been reading your posts on NC for at least a year and always liked what you’ve said.

        About this taoist stuff, I’ve been into it for quite a long time, so I may be able to offer helpful thoughts.
        ( I first learned zazen about about 25 years ago at http://www.throssel.org.uk/about-the-abbey , although I don’t have any formal connection to those folks ).

        First point, ’emotional’ reaction is our modern Western term, superimposed retrospectively upon an ancient Indo-Chinese belief system which didn’t make use of such a ( crude ) term.
        So, to get some better insight, we really need to suspend our contemporary view and try to see how their old concepts evolved, e.g. like yin and yang, from the dark, shady side of the mountain, contrasted with the light, sunny side, being two facets of the same thing.

        So, I’d suggest, in the elementary thinking of the time, it was logical to build up a comprehensive system of binary qualities. From that came the notion of the one gradually becoming it’s opposite, in a dynamic cyclical way, as in the I Ching divination, ( which gave Leibniz the idea for binary numbers and lead to our digital technology ).

        But all this so far, is intellectual, cerebral, people thinking about stuff ( which is the predominant focus of Western culture ). However, taoism, and zen ( a child of taoism and buddhism ) is about something quite different. The thesis is, that we cannot understand our existential situation by using rational, cerebral, analytical thought. I mean, they tried, failed, and then discovered another route, which is somewhat incomprehensible to Western minds because it’s not been part of the culture at all. ( with few exceptions, various so-called mystics, e.g. The Cloud of Unknowing, etc )

        So, IMO, if a person really wants to understand those Tao te Ching references to Opposites, the best thing to do is to forget Western thinking and start from scratch, which means formal meditation, which is the base of all that Eastern philosophical stuff, deriving from the dhyanas or jhanas in Hinduism which go way, way back into pre-history.

        So, you’re sitting, introspectively, and you find yourself filled with joy and pleasure. And yet, even a few moments later, it’s all vanished, and you’re filled with sorrow and despair. And so it goes. Up and down and up again. So that was the conundrum that those guys were addressing. Nothing to do with our modern intellectual notion of a conceptual polarity. It was ‘in the body’, sensual, emotional, as you said, and that’s not to deny the intimate linkage between thought and feeling. But the idea is this, that by persistent practice it is possible to discover a state or condition that is beyond or above those fluctuating internal conditions, a position of utter stillness, tranquility and bliss.
        You might think of it as the exact axial centre of a rotating wheel, which remains completely still, whilst all around is spinning…

        This state, – which has many technical terms, in Sanscrit, Chinese, Japanese, etc, for which we have no corresponding words- is undoubtedly, by far, the very best thing that I have ever come across in my life. I can’t praise it too highly ! Which is why, out of compassion for all, I am enthusiastic to share 🙂

        You wrote :

        ” And I think life requires deep and active involvement. Being ‘apart’ from it, coolly observant, unaffected, ‘spiritual’ and so on, is not my aim. Awareness is its own center anyway, can there be any other? If we attempt to ‘rise above’ opposites we are making a value judgment by trying not to, creating another scale to do with how balanced or unbalanced we are, how centered. We can’t escape value judgments because we are emotional and moral, but we can develop our understanding of them, and the consequences of our existence.”

        Yes, i understand what you are saying, but you have a misconception. Practicing the above, doesn’t limit active involvement, it makes it more effective, because it clarifies. Nor does it set one apart. Nor does it involve value judgements. It’s a ‘doing’, not a ‘thinking about’ or a ‘believing’.

        “Awareness is it’s own centre” Okay, great. Then in my words, I’d substitute consciousness for awareness, and offer the formulation that the essence of zen is ‘consciousness being fully and completely conscious of consciousness’…. Normally, awareness or consciousness has to have an object, an idea, a sound, a sensation, or whatever. So, what one does is to make consciousness itself into that object, thereby setting up a sort of feedback loop.

        Comment by wb — August 15, 2011 @ 7:55 am

      • Very interesting stuff, wb. And you don’t come across as condescending at all. Funny, because I always worry I do!

        I understand better where you are coming from now, and probably agree, although this is not really about agreement, just sharing insights and perspectives. However, you have exposed yourself far more deeply to that path than have I. When I’m finished with my current project (to write a book on all this money and society stuff) I will be getting into ‘eastern’ philosophy and methodology. I look forward to it, because the book is taking a lot of energy, which is fiercely analytical and drily academic, regardless of how passionate I am about it.

        Comment by Toby — August 15, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

  8. So, IMO, if a person really wants to understand those Tao te Ching references to Opposites, the best thing to do is to forget Western thinking and start from scratch, which means formal meditation, which is the base of all that Eastern philosophical stuff, deriving from the dhyanas or jhanas in Hinduism which go way, way back into pre-history.

    Forgetting about Western thinking is the key, although I don’t think formal meditation is required at all. We don’t need the trappings of ritual or formal philosophy to see the truth for what it is. We just need to look past the fictions to which we cling for comfort.

    I view the Tao Te Ching, at its heart, as the understanding of humanity as a dynamic process and not a static thing. The “opposites” are fictions that are immediately put into conflict with each other at their creation. Mastering the Way requires focusing on the journey that the process that is humanity takes us instead of on the illusory, static “landmarks” that we have created to comfort ourselves. When you get past interpreting the world by comparing it to your false expectations, you can enjoy the world, and humanity, for what they are.

    I am not a Taoist, but I see in the Tao Te Ching an ancient (and subversive) expression of human nature.

    Comment by Tao Jonesing — August 15, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

    • Hi Tao Jonesing,

      Well, each to their own, it’s not for me to tell anyone what their understanding should, or ought, to be.

      I’d say that it is impossible to really understand Taoism ( and same goes for other Eastern belief systems, Hinduism, Buddhism, ) without meditation, and why would one want to avoid meditation anyway ? It’s like having a chest full of fabulous jewels and treasure and never opening it to admire the contents.

      If you think of the black and white yin yang symbol, which represents the opposites, the aim of taoism is to reach the centre, to transcend the opposites, seen as the Supreme Ultimate, that is, the highest possible achievement for humans. This would be a state of being, a level of consciousness, which is achieved by effort, practice, a disciplined application of techniques, not something that just occurs by accident or by intellectual thinking. It involves the total being, one’s mind, one’s physical body, one’s chi, one’s sexual energy, everything.

      This is one of the fundamental distinctions from, say, Western Christianity, where, generally, you are seen as powerless to find transcendence, except by a random gift of grace from God, with no clue how that might be sought or found.

      I take your point, re dynamic, not static, and agree. That’s another fundamental difference from Western worldviews. The Tao as a flowing river, forever rippling and eddying and swirling about. I’d add that we each have our personal mini-tao, a leaf in the river, and this can be directly cultivated every moment you’re alive.

      I think ‘fictions’ is a slightly odd term. I see them more as abstractions, like, say, the idea of plus and minus, or negative and positive.

      I must say, I’m slightly shocked at the responses on NC re recent mention by Yves of meditation. I mean, there are so many very smart and broadly educated readers, and yet all this ‘spiritual’ stuff seems to be a blind spot. I think there are two reasons, one is that in the West, we’ve all been deliberately dumbed down for two thousand years, by the priesthoods and elites, who co-opted and corrupted religion and the repackaged it to make the masses dependent and confused.
      Second reason, since the wider spiritual explorations which began roughly in the 1960’s, every aspect has been commercially exploited, the typical capitalist commodification, which reduces the sacred to profitable New Agey junk.

      Couple of links

      http://www.alternet.org/story/151960/michele_bachmann_was_inspired_by_my_dad_and_his_christian_reconstructionist_friends_–_here%27s_why_that%27s_terrifying?page=entire

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14417362

      Comment by wb — August 16, 2011 @ 7:16 am

      • I’m possibly struggling a bit, to make the point, replying to Toby, TJ, re what I mean about the opposites in taoism, and how they are, or were, to be seen as deriving from meditational experience, to do with levels of consciousness. If anyone is interested, perhaps this link will clarify what I mean, The Secret of the Golden Flower. Google provides plenty of related references.

        http://www.alchemylab.com/golden_flower.htm

        Comment by wb — August 16, 2011 @ 8:47 am

      • I’d say that it is impossible to really understand Taoism ( and same goes for other Eastern belief systems, Hinduism, Buddhism, ) without meditation,

        As an uninvited interjection- I’d also say that it’s impossible to really understand Taoism without understanding the socio-political and ecological circumstances in which it arose, which are often passed over. The population density and climate of the Zhou era were such that it was literally possible to wander into the forest and subsist without agriculture in much of China- this was much less true during later dynasties as the population density increased and climate change made many areas much less hospitable. Daoism is particularly interesting when viewed as a reaction to the chaos and brutality of the Warring States period, and in competition with the other philosophies of the Hundred Schools at the time.

        Comment by paper mac — August 16, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

      • This reminds me of Russ’s enthusiasm for Nietzsche’s Perspectivism, which I share. There’s many different perspectives on any one subject, and all can be helpful or useful to deepen understanding.

        I see taoism as rather individualistic, a counter to Confucianism as being more socially orientated. Thinking of Jesus and Mohammed’s teachings, they have a lot to say about social relationships and morality, etc, whereas, as I see it, taoism is more about the relationship between one’s self and everything else. These dilemmas are still with us, of course, as in the frequently raised questions as to what degree we are ‘natural’, products of evolution, and to what degree ‘artificial’, products of our own invention.

        I’m not especially interested in the sociological or comparative religion perspective, as applied from some sort of objective or academic platform. I’m into actually doing it as a practical project, i.e. harmonizing with the Universe during every second of my existence, which is something very different to intellectual analysis.

        Comment by wb — August 17, 2011 @ 4:50 am

      • I’m into actually doing it as a practical project, i.e. harmonizing with the Universe during every second of my existence, which is something very different to intellectual analysis.

        If I think about it, then that’s the way I try to be. I hardly ever consciously contemplate my “being” anymore, but just want to feel I’m making progress along the practical path which has turned out to constitute my necessity. This is what true living is. (Although Nietzsche would disagree on this kind of path. One real contradiction in N’s thought is the way he implicitly excludes political activism as a legitimate pathway of self-actualization. That’s because he was deterministic about the whole “Meet the new boss…” thing. But I’m obviously not a fatalist about that, regard such fatalism as at best objectively pro-tyranny and usually intentional defeatism, and at any rate I think we have to try).

        I don’t formally meditate, though. Rather, sometimes I become conscious of myself and realize that some vector of practical thought and/or action was actually a kind of meditation at the same time.

        Something I didn’t quite get in this thread was some of the emphasis on consciousness. I thought Eastern philosophy and meditation strove to transcend consciousness. That’s also what N considered the ideal: “We deny that anything can be done perfectly so long as it is still done consciously.” The Antichrist, section 14.

        As regards the lower animals, it was Descartes who first had the really admirable daring to describe them as machina; the whole of our physiology is directed toward proving the truth of this doctrine. Moreover, it is illogical to set man apart, as Descartes did: what we know of man today is limited precisely by the extent to which we have regarded him, too, as a machine. Formerly we accorded to man, as his inheritance from some higher order of beings, what was called “free will”; now we have taken even this will from him, for we no longer admit the will as a faculty. The old word “will” now denotes only a sort of result, an individual reaction, that follows inevitably upon a series of partly discordant and partly harmonious stimuli. The will no longer “acts,” or “moves.”

        Formerly it was thought that man’s consciousness, his “spirit,” offered evidence of his high origin, his divinity. That he might be perfected, he was advised, tortoise-like, to draw his senses in, to have no traffic with earthly things, to shed his mortal shroud — then only the important part of him, the “pure spirit,” would remain. Here again we have thought out the thing better: to us consciousness, or “the spirit,” appears as a symptom of a relative imperfection of the organism, as an experiment, a groping, a misunderstanding, as an affliction which uses up nervous force unnecessarily. We deny that anything can be done perfectly so long as it is done consciously. The “pure spirit” is a piece of pure stupidity: take away the nervous system and the senses, the so-called “mortal shroud,” and the rest is miscalculation — that is all!

        Comment by Russ — August 17, 2011 @ 5:13 am

      • Interesting stuff, Russ 🙂

        “I don’t formally meditate, though. Rather, sometimes I become conscious of myself and realize that some vector of practical thought and/or action was actually a kind of meditation at the same time.”

        Yes, well, I’ve had this conversation before, may times with many people. I know that the whole idea, let alone the practice, of formal meditation, is hard for most people. Bit like being told you need to go on a diet of unpalatable food that you know you won’t like.

        I’m in the position of having gone through that stage long, long ago. I’m quite proud that, if I wish, if I put my mind to it, I can sit in traditional orthodox lotus posture, upon my zafu, well, probably indefinitely. It’s not a hardship, it’s the most wonderful thing that I know of.

        I agree that for most people, in the beginning it seems like hell, and totally pointless as well. But it’s a bit like learning to play a musical instrument, or to swim, or ride a horse or a bicycle, after the initial misery, if you persevere, the rewards are worth the effort.

        Thing is, when you say ‘ I become conscious of myself ‘, what does that actually mean ? I suggest that the normal condition is a sort of semi-consciousness, almost a sleep-walking, and every now and then a brighter awareness breaks through momentarily. So, what one can do, in formal meditation, is to observe that sort of process and then begin to play around with it. There’s very many ways of doing that, but just to give an example. As you watch the constant flow of thoughts and sensations passing through consciousness, you can deliberately bring it to an abrupt halt, say, with a sharp intake of breath, and try to attain the maximum possible awareness of all sense data coming in. And then you notice that very quickly the effort exhausts you, and you’re back down into the familiar flow of distracting thoughts.

        So, what you do, like a lifter training with weights to build muscle, you keep repeating that technique, every day for a few minutes, and soon you notice it gets stronger. Which is a nice positive feedback. So you kind of build yourself a tool, the ability to focus intense concentration and awareness. When that tool is strong, you can use it to do stuff. Instead of being centred up in the head, where the thoughts are the major elements of the inner scenery, you can move your centre of consciousness down to the belly, just below the navel. This changes everything. Do you see what I mean ? Then, as one advances over weeks and months, you discover that you can move this focal centre down to the genitals, to connect with sexual energy, and then up the spine, and then to the point just above the skull. All these different positions, have very different ‘knowings’ or ‘beings’, so to speak. In Taoism, it’s called taoist alchemy or yoga, but the same stuff is known in Hinduism and Buddhism, just that the technical terminology is different.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taoist_yoga

        I first learned this stuff doing Soto Zen Buddhist zazen, but some years later I came across Tai Chi and Qi Gong and Aikido, and realised that ‘meditation in the midst of movement’ is even more amazing.

        “Formerly it was thought that man’s consciousness, his “spirit,” offered evidence of his high origin, his divinity. That he might be perfected, he was advised, tortoise-like, to draw his senses in, to have no traffic with earthly things, to shed his mortal shroud — then only the important part of him, the “pure spirit,” would remain. Here again we have thought out the thing better: to us consciousness, or “the spirit,” appears as a symptom of a relative imperfection of the organism, as an experiment, a groping, a misunderstanding, as an affliction which uses up nervous force unnecessarily. We deny that anything can be done perfectly so long as it is done consciously. The “pure spirit” is a piece of pure stupidity: take away the nervous system and the senses, the so-called “mortal shroud,” and the rest is miscalculation — that is all!”

        I’ve read this several times and I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s possible that the original was in German and the translation makes for confusion. I’m quite happy to throw out the ‘high origin, divinity’ bit, which is just human hubris and pretension. But the ‘pure spirit detached from the mortal shroud’ I’d see as very worthwhile achievement, which corresponds with the achievement of the Pali Canon Jhanas ( that word becomes dhyanas in Sanscrit, ch’an in Chinese, zen in Japanese ).

        I’m not clear what N. means by something ‘done perfectly’. I wonder what sort of action or whatever he had in mind and what ‘perfect’ would mean ? And the last bit ‘the rest is miscalculation’ is opaque and meaningless to me.

        Re the perfection of action. There’s plenty of scope for bullshitting when we discuss with words. But if you do a martial art or similar, you can’t bullshit. Either your move is perfect or it isn’t. Like target shooting. There’s objective feedback, either the arrow hits the mark, or it doesn’t.

        Comment by wb — August 17, 2011 @ 6:10 am

      • That’s the way I experience things, although I don’t usually stop to think about it these days. (And I didn’t mean to give the impression that I’m dissatisfied and looking for something better. I was trying to say the opposite – I’m increasingly at peace with myself.)

        By “become conscious of myself” I meant that my ego becomes the spectator/detached analyst of what I’m doing or have been doing, as opposed to being focused on the act itself, as an extension of it.

        Nietzsche, as usual, is speaking primarily of the world of the mind, not of physical actions (though that too). He’s referring to the ego as being an epiphenomenon, and how all the hagiography of it, both religious and the more day-to-day human exceptionalism, is the tail deluding itself that it wags the dog. This is the “miscalculation” referred to. Belief in free will, the quasi- or pseudo-divinity of the ego, the “soul atomism” itself (that the “ego”, the “soul”, is anything but a bundle of traits, really nothing but a reified grammatical convention), that our conscious thoughts have so much greater legitimacy than our sensory organs and autonomous nervous system – these cause us to miscalculate in so many ways.

        Comment by Russ — August 17, 2011 @ 7:46 am

      • I wasn’t intending to imply that there is anything wrong with you, Russ, or that you should do anything. That’s none of my business. I’m just trying to clarify what I see as being at the core of taoism.

        I can’t say that I’m clear about what N. was getting at, I havn’t studied his work enough. These words, ‘ego’, ‘self’, ‘soul’, ‘mind’, etc, are used so loosely with such broad possibility for interpretation, that it’s difficult to be sure what someone actually means by them.

        I know that some people insist that the I or ego is little more than the result of grammatical convention. I don’t agree with that. I see it as the executive function of a biological organism. I mean, we are so complicated, with so many systems and sub-systems, which often conflict, that there has to be a function which over-rides lesser claims. I mean, one system says I’m thirsty and must drink, whilst another says those guys look like muggers, while another says I need to phone my wife and tell her when I’ll be back, while another says my ankle hurts I must see a doctor, and so on, so there has to be a captain of the ship on the bridge who navigates through all that stuff. This applies also to other species, which also demonstrate a sense of self. I mean, 90% of the cells inside us are bacterial, not human, and somewhere inside is the strange homeostatic principle which runs all the stuff which doesn’t normally enter conscious awareness. What we normally get from it is a pang of pain, or some other symptomatic signal, to inform the executive function that attention is required. So i see ego, self, sense of ‘me’ as an actual functional working entity, rather than merely a product of language.

        On the other hand, this ego function does seem to have a powerful tendency to grow, bit like tyrannical megalomania, worshipping itself, and lose touch with its normal healthy status. Perhaps that’s the aspect that N. wished to deflate.

        Comment by wb — August 17, 2011 @ 8:49 am

      • Yes, N wanted to revalue it (like reason, or anything else) to its proper place.

        The soul (or ego) atomism refers to the idea that what’s called this is really just a sum of traits which is not more than the sum of those traits. Remove the traits, and there’s nothing left over of the “ego”. A classic example is the deconstruction of Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. Aside from being a tautology (in saying “I” think, it’s already postulating the “I am”), it’s wrong in that if you remove “thinking” from “I think”, then what’s left over of the “I”? Really, there’s nothing but “thinking”, and no “I”. So it is with the other traits of the alleged “I”. But our grammar, and apparently our way of conscious thinking, requires us to invent the subject to serve as an anchor for the predicate. But that’s a convention of grammar and thought, not a reality. Only the predicate describes reality. But we tend to reify this confected subject.

        That’s a prime example of what N meant when he talked about falsehoods that were necessary for functionality in life, and how what’s “true” isn’t necessarily the same as what’s necessary for us to believe or pretend we believe. (In Beyond Good and Evil he kicks off with this discussion.)

        Comment by Russ — August 17, 2011 @ 9:20 am

  9. Yes, I understand that. The Buddha’s analysis came to the same conclusion. Yes, you remove the redundant ‘I’. But still, something remains, the observer, the knower, that which is aware. And ‘you’ are not ‘me’. We each have our individual perspective. When I feel my arm, it’s my arm not your arm, that produces the sensation. I’d probably agree with N., that the ‘I’ is a necessary pragmatic falsehood. Incidentally, I think that Krishnamurti tries to get around this problem by referring to himself as ‘the speaker’.

    But you see, where that insight leads me, is to consider this thing called the knower, the observer, which witnesses the various phenomena.
    Presumably, in its purest form, as a field of awareness, mine is no different to yours, or anyone elses, or that of any other sentient being. Indeed, some would claim that this pure awareness has no limits, extends through out the Universe, and some claim it is an aspect or facet of God, but we get into deep water there, becauseattempting precise definition of ‘God’ is hopeless…

    Anyway, having isolated pure awareness, there a some very interesting things that one can do with it, as described, for example, in those texts on the jhanas.
    To explore those really does require a very high degree of concentration. It’s hard work. That’s why formal meditation is necessary. But then, after a lot of practice over months or years, eventually one finds that one can enter those jhanas at will. It was around that stage that I came upon the other Eastern martial arts type of traditions, Qi Gong, etc, and realised that it would be possibly to spend all day in a jhanic absorption, indeed, to conduct one’s whole life in that condition, no need to be tied down to sitting in lotus posture. In other words, live a normal ( hahahaha ! what’s ‘normal’ ?) life just like anyone else… The old masters knew all about this progression, for example, as illustrated in the Ox Herding pictures.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Bulls

    Comment by wb — August 17, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    • I think that Krishnamurti tries to get around this problem by referring to himself as ‘the speaker’.

      That’s not bad. I suppose if you trained yourself over a long time to think that way, it would come to feel natural, and would therefore be a good self-organization of our real nature.

      (I say train over time because it would be and feel very artificial at first.)

      Comment by Russ — August 17, 2011 @ 11:31 am

  10. It is the best time to make a few plans for the long run and it’s time to be happy. I have learn this post and if I may just I want to suggest you few attention-grabbing issues or tips. Perhaps you could write subsequent articles referring to this article. I wish to learn more things approximately it!

    Comment by • The Internet net is already flooded with there already something like a millions free themes out there that would work just fine as Socrates Premium Wordpress Theme.Yes, there are about hundreds free themes out there and just about all of them will wo — April 2, 2013 @ 11:37 am


RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: