Boundary Conditions, Starting Points, Generative Methodologies
Consider. If I ask Fred why he fell in love with his wife, he is likely to respond with something like 'we spent a lot of time together, have many interests in common, and just slowly grew to love her'...If I try to force him into a naturalistic, materialistic paradigm, the exchange might look like this:
"Consciousness" has attracted a great deal of attention, esp. in the last 50 years or so. There are numerous attempts daily(!) to 'reduce it' to physical processes (with or without the intermediate 'biological' half-way house). I personally am not convinced that we can even 'objectify' it adequately, since it is basically experienced 1) from 'within' (we study it from 'without') and 2) our experience of it from 'without' is so heavily conditioned by the presence of 'will' as to make our results highly questionable. Although consensus philosophy of science assumes that this reduction 'obtains' they have essentially given up on demonstrating it! (see the Books section readings).
At this point, I consider consciousness to be 'irreducible' in content, like 'fear'...you cannot define it except ostensibly. [To be fair, I don't think we do much better with terms like 'matter' or 'nature' or 'existence' or 'essence' or 'individuation' either--so I don't think this is a major objection...but I have taken a stab at definitions of existence in the Wall section]
As for how the consciousness interacts with the neuro-stuff...well, I have my naive, pet theory. I think the will has the ability to create patterns of minute electrical charges (ex nihilo--sorta like the virtual electrons/photons/gauge particles of quantum electrodynamics and quantum field theory, eh?) in the brain, that 'route' the massive parallel flows that are characteristic of all macro-level operations...much as a train switch or rudder of ship...not many such electrons (or whatever) are truly necessary to make massive shifts in the patterns.
But what about the observability of this suggested mechanism? What about its predictive power? I have found it to be surprisingly powerful as a predictive model. For example, almost every time my consciousness 'wills' to press the letter H on this keyboard, my arm/finger movements do just that! Watch...HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH...see? Amazing!
Now, I KNOW what some of you out there are probably thinking--something like "hey, wait a minute...how can you demonstrate that your 'willing' produced the neuro-stuff that produced the motion? If you can't demonstrate how the 'exchange' or 'interface' worked, why should we believe you?" And to this I simply ask if you have been tracking the methods and procedures of sub-atomic physics for the last 50 years. That 'hard science' area has so many more unobservables than does my full-blown theological system!...and they infer the 'existence' of those particles, by the production of macro-level consequences (such as bubble-chamber tracks) WITHOUT any 'inspection' or 'demonstration' of the intermediate processes or interfaces. The strange languages of quantum field theory, quantum electrodynamics, and quantum chromodynamics are accepted because of their PREDICTIVE power alone. So...watch me again...HHHHHHHHHHHHHH...it worked again. (There are some qualifications to this argument, but they will have to wait till I have made more progress on the other pages.)
Consider the old cartoon of the 5th grader, who has just presented a school report card of all F's to his dad, who is sitting in the favorite easy chair. The father has looked sternly at the kid, and the kid has asked the important causal question: "Well, Dad, what do you think? Was it ENVIRONMENT, or HEREDITY?"
The kid has won the day...if the dad says "ENVIRONMENT", then the parents are to blame...if the dad says "HEREDITY", then the parents are to blame likewise...UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES is the kid a 'fault-center'.
The reason the kid is off the hook, is that the kid has 'disappeared' in this model. He has not only been 'reduced to causes' but also has been 'distributed' over ALL causes! No action theory/decision theory model can work in this setting, because the decision maker has LOST all transcendence (or 'over against-ness') vis-a-vis the causal nexus. (In fact, in this model of causal chains, there is only ONE 'sinner'--the universe in its totality!)
Now, we KNOW that environment/heredity (or nature/nurture or whatever/whatever) can and does affect outcomes, but our basic, irreducible sense is that the kid is, in some way, a unit-player in the outcome (and therefore deserves some culpability). In my book, this position REQUIRES AS A PRESUPPOSITION some level of interaction between the child's objectivity (i.e. nature, upbringing, factuality, habitus) and his subjectivity (i.e. his decision-making event-creator self).
At the simplest level, a dialogical model is approximated here. We KNOW that we can use our subjectivity to change our objectivity--we do it when we 'choose and execute' to go over a spelling word list 10 times. We KNOW from neuroscience that we literally 'cut traces' in the brain (i.e. increase statistical probability of specific neuron circuit configuration firings over others). And we also KNOW that our range of subjective choices are essentially (but not exhaustively, in my opinion) determined by our objective factors (e.g. education, linguistic competency). What I see here is a dialogical/dialectical model, in which I can choose (within ranges) which direction to develop ('concretize'?) my objectivity-self. Then, that objectivity makes it easier for my subjectivity to 'take that path again' (or harder to break the habit). This is recognizably habit-pattern creation stuff.
But...I maintain that 1)in no sense is the subject reduced to the causes (or she disappears) and 2)in no sense is the range of choice absolutely fixed. (I believe, at this point, that the ability of linguistic formulation in mental states--for example to create a negation statement about some factor of my objectivity--allow the visualization of 'alternative personal realities' that CAN create action-impulse vectors outside the bounds of predicted behavior. In other words, I can call up an image of myself (aaarrrgggg....shades of self-help magicians!) that could 'pull me toward it' with forces of attraction, adrenaline, etc. powerful enough to move the objectivity a few % points beyond its range.
I don't consider its power strong enough to make radical changes in the objectivity at a single point in time (this might be some 'spiritual realities' that could stretch it a good bit farther, but THAT weird discussion will have to wait to another time!) but strong enough to make small, incremental changes...and with, successive applications of this technique, to create a wider range of objective possibilities. (This, of course, is seemingly the core of many of the visualization self-help/improvement programs.)
For example, at the lowest volitional level, one would not normally be too concerned over whether a rock was trying to deceive a scientist (with the possible exception in Process philosophy, where they DO possess some sentience!). Farther up the chain we encounter animal behavior that will adapt itself to avoid interrogation in some contexts. And at the human level, we know that observation of a 'object under study' can RADICALLY affect their behavior, statements, etc.
What this means for the discovery process, is at least two-fold. First, that each element of the universe (i.e. semantic unit) provides some information in forming the understanding of the context (like a hologram in which each point contains the picture as a whole, and like the process in which we 'correct' phonemes based upon expected sentence meaning), and that second, we (as semantic units within the sentence) have a dialogical relationship to the other units. In other words, we do not 'extract/extort' data from our objects, nor do we passively 'wait for the rocks to speak'; they rather 'answer us'--if we ask the RIGHT questions...Discovery then boils down to dialogue--a framing of questions for the universe and allowing the universe to tell us to change the questions! (if need be)...
This notion of 'semantic field or web' has the personal element implicit in it, and as such allows the semantic units to be 'revelatory' of some Speaker (to the extent said Speak intends disclosure.)
It is also important to note that the relationships played by words and sentences and paragraphs within a semantic unit, can be seen as a unifying model for both particle and field theories (at some gross level). Words have specific meanings only within a context (field theories); but context is only composed of discrete semantic 'atoms' (particle theories). (I am NOT suggesting that we abandon the microscope in favor of the dictionary, of course, but that we be a little less presumptive and harsh in our claims of scientific knowledge--esp. at the expense of other experienced realities like consciousness).
These meta-critical dicta typically make general pronouncements ("all sentences are meaningless" or "There is no such thing as truth"), and assume some unjustified exemption from its own pronouncement. ("all sentences are meaningless" very quickly 'unpacks' into a mutation of the Liar's Paradox--"This sentence is meaningless"). If the exemption cannot be warranted, then the dictum cannot be stated (without contradicting itself, or at least without reducing into paradox).
This raises the question as to whether one might be able to construct a set of meta-dicta that could NOT BE ARGUED AGAINST for this reason..."at least one sentence communicates" or "at least one truth can be known". These statements would be UNDENIABLE, but would not therefore be PROVABLE.
Metaphysically, I would understand this to be symptomatic of the derivative character of human existence--that we are 'bound' in a context that presupposes some 'universals', none of which might be 'provable' to all paradigm communities or individual worldviews, but all of which we cannot 'escape'. (See Self-reflexivity)
This distance, left to itself, will lead to the break up of the cognitive universe into multi-verses (zillions of discrete units 'over against' the others). Something, however, in the universe holds the subject and object together, some 'glue' that provides SOME assurance that 'the known' is in epistemic relationship to us. (I tend to understand this as semantic glue, derived from a locutional creation, similar to the 'glue' that holds our paragraphs/sentences 'together'
In brief, I have a guarantee (from my worldview) that the keyboard in front of me is 'sending out data' across the gap, efficaciously, so that the noumena/phenomena gap is not so wide. The fact that both the knower and the known are 'citizens' in a semantic web provokes me to respect for my fellow-citizen, encouragement that I can establish 'contact' with it, and that this 'epistemic' distance might not imply a radical 'ontic' distance as well.
For this reason, metaphors are major 'carriers' of knowledge, but they 'resist' over-analysis. Some of these function as models, giving insight, but not necessarily reducible to significant restatement in non-metaphorical language. (In the theological terminology, the analogical content could never be stated WITHOUT a modus significandi.) This RADICALLY affects the issue of precision (below).
A striking example of this is sub-atomic physics. The same basic 'things' of study are approached as particles, waves, and fields. Quarks have 'color' and 'flavor'. The extra 6-8 dimensions of spacetime in superstring/supersymmetric theories are 'curled up' inside spaces smaller than the proton(!). Forces are 'carried by' particles. Think for a second...what 'is' a "force" or a "particle" for that matter...
A major implication of this is that NO specific area of knowledge (e.g. physics, sociology, etc.) can claim some kind of 'superior' knowledge...it is as dependent on the others as they are.
Now, draw a stick-figure, inject a person, maybe even me. I have moral notions that I consider VERY important--I get outraged at vandalism, crimes against the elderly, child abuse, ethnic violence. I struggle with person moral decisions everyday...sometimes agonize over them, if they affect my kids, or my friends, or other loyalties that I have. But...the universe doesn't even notice these, and in a million years or so, my moral choices will have made NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER--the machine will have keep on grinding away. In fact, my moral notions just don't fit in such a universe at all. And NO 'value' can even find definition in such a universe...survival of the species, altruism, selfishness, religion--NOTHING makes any difference whatsoever.
Now, let's try adding 'gods'...superhuman, but finite deities, perhaps like the gods of Greece or Egypt or Babylon...if they are INSIDE the universe (and subject to it), we have gained nothing--they are just in this meaningless stew as well!
But if we add a real God...beyond the universe, (graphically surrounding the rectangle) dwarfing its mechanism, forming the CONTEXT for that universe...with hyper-consciousness, moral notions, personal actions, things-that-are-valued...ALL OF A SUDDEN I FIT! My choices and agony and struggles and acts of kindness and acts of justice BELONG IN THIS UNIVERSE! Everything I approach as a person has significance now!--work, play, love, social action, thinking--because the URP does the same things...
Notice that this only works if the URP is sufficiently 'personal'. IF said URP were simply an impersonal force (e.g. gravity, evolution) I AM STILL ALONE. And, IF said URP were 'beyond personality', I would likewise be still out-of-place. For example, if the URP were a Cat, then all cats would 'fit' and have significance, but the best I could do to would be to emulate a cat (?).
[Bizarre historical note: A week after understanding this and actually 'experiencing' the feeling of 'belonging' I was sharing this model with a Hindu graduate student at Ga. Tech who was in one of my short courses in programming. We were walking along the sidewalk to the cafeteria, and he abruptly stopped me and asked me how he could get to know this God! It was then that I began to understand the necessity and graciousness of God's revealing Himself to us, in graphical format (the Judeo-Christian Bible), in pattern-displays (i.e. facets of His character in the universe's order, immensity, beauty, etc.), and in the face-to-face encounter between history and the God-man Jesus Christ.]
The above sketches out the significance of our actions and choosing. There are those that argue that an URP is needed for all acts of predication as well. While it is clear to me that the ethical dimensions of linguistic acts are covered thereby, I am still working on the argument that an epistemic URP is also necessary.
I am intrigued in this area with the descriptions in particle physics. I remember books that described, for example, the characteristics of light as a wave and as a particle...Then the descriptions of it later as a wavicle and as a field. But the technical equations describing particles seems to be exclusively on their behavior in various contexts. We may have even lost the notion of 'particle' in the process.
The linguists of the world say we talk about four things: things, events, attributes, relationships--and these are generally distinguishable at the macro level. But at the sub-micro level of sub-atomic physics, all of these seem the same! What looked like a particle, can be seen an event, an attribute of a field, and event as a relationship between two other entities. (We have infinite precision, but the we have wrapped back around the epistemic bubble!).
Closely related to this is the reference scope of a language. Natural, common languages seem to trade-off between precision, vividness, and range of subject matter. For example, in common U.S. English, I can talk about 'despair' and 'justice' and 'Hannah' and 'cause' in the same sentence. This sentence will have a level of ambiguity that is connected with each of those words, as well as the ambiguity generated by the collocation of those into one semantic unit. (Some ambiguity will also be removed in this process, as some meanings will get 'selected' by the proximity of the other words.). I have a wide range of reference, but my precision may be very low (relative to technical languages.). But in a technical language of say, action theory, I may not even be able to use the vocab words 'despair' or 'justice' at all, but have better precision on the 'cause' word.
What I am suggesting here is NOT that we abandon rigor or precision in our work(!), but that we understand the trade-offs and limitations of our language.