Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Philosophy, Dichotomy and Going Beyond Dualism

A vs B and why that model’s time has passed.

I started my classes again today. The first up was “Philosophy of Mind.” The professor seems to be very into this topic, and for starters made it very intimidating. It’s not that the material is un-readable, but his harsh grading system (A/F) is a little disconcerting. Nevertheless. What is the philosophy of mind? From what I heard today, it’s the study of the mind/body “problem.” That is, how does consciousness arise in the body? Does it? Do we have free will, or if everything is physical, then is choice an illusion? There are many other questions that come up with this topic. We are going to be focusing on the “mind-body” split and how many philosophers chose (no pun intended) to answer it. Some go for the determinist view, the physicalist argument (No free will). Others go for the opposite view: All is mind. Then there are others who attemp to create a middle way, or balance between the perspectives. I personally agree with the third way, but the philosophy of integral has definitely had an influence in me in this respect.

While in class, I couldn’t help but remember the name of a chapter in Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber, “Mind-Body Drop!” A buddhist teacher used this as a koan, or a pointing out instruction for his students. The third topic I’d like to see in this class (though it wasn’t in the syllabus), would be- is there anything more? When mind-body drops, what is left? Or, as the Zen masters might say, what is your original face, before your parents were born?

So this is what we’re focusing on: The mind/body problem. I’d like to think of us as mind-bodies. We are both biological and mental. Being a fan of quantum physics and all related research, I’m somewhat aware that we are learning more about the mind potentially (pun not intended, again) being quantum-related. That is, some aspects of our consciousness can be explained through quantum science. I need to look up the article, but I recently read that protons move roughly around or beyond the speed of light. This would have profound insights into consciousness and how we experience it. 

But, back to the class, “Philosophy of Mind.” I’m going to try not to raise too many questions based on things I’ve read outside of the class. For instance, we know with quantum science that the universe is certainly not deterministic. In fact, it’s all about potential and probability collapsing into our experience. The mind is as much a creator of reality as it is a subject to it. That is, we are biological indeed, and all laws of the universe apply to us, but the brain helps create the experience of reality. It’s our way of interacting with the world, and it has gradually adapted and complicated over the eons. 

I wasn’t aware of this, but the term “science” was hardly used before the scientific revolution. Before then, it was called “natural philosophy.” Philosophy was a part of science, and vice versa. So, I see that as an example of yin-yang relationship that I’d like to see in mind-body theories. 

From what I know, the problem with the ‘physicalists’ or extreme ‘reduction’ is that it cannot yet account for the very basic experience of consciousness. It just can’t explain why on earth we’d have this awareness. 

So, to express my final thoughts on this subject (for now, of course), seeing modern philosophy as a series of “dichotomies” has inherently limited it to dualism, when it has so much more potential. The “problem” of inner mind and outer world can be dispelled, I think, with a third view. Instead of “either/or” let’s look at how “both/and” is possible. Instead of night or day, we have night and day. Life and death are intrinsic, and so why not body-mind? These are all just words, but they point to something more. I think this could be seen as an evolution from traditional philosophy (of dichotomies) to eteology, or the study from beingness. It could be said, the phrase, “I think, I am,” is not digging deep enough. Instead, “I am, I think, I feel, I see,” could help us gain more insight. The space between the words gain importance in an “integral” attitude. The connectivity, the complimenting of once opposing views are deeply valued. Seeing the flex-flow evolution of memes, consciousness and perspective- this is the future of so many things, including philosophy. 

And so, maybe I’ll mention these ideas in class, but either way, I hope to see them in our lives. The tool of stepping back from dualistic thinking does not leave us with idiocy, but the profound silence of transcendent and transrational consciousness.


Nave Haider said...

The problem with dualism is that on one hand it is reductive and deconstructionist -- if things are defined by what they are not, then they inherently have no original definition. For linguistic words such as "life" "death" and so forth, that's all great, but when it comes to the concrete concepts it becomes problematic -- or rather, chaotic, and as such another glimpse with the Absurd.

But the Absurd is in itself a strange concept. Even if we ignore the existentialistswe see that Absurdity becomes the final condition in other schools of thought as well. If we believe in quantum physics and the random nature of quarks to be reflective of everything else, including human choice, then it seems that the universe is, inherently, random, uncertain, and therefore absurd. Moreover it distorts the notion of choice altogether since it would mean the act of choosing is itself random and determined not by conscious decision, but emotional (subjective) impulse. If there is a structure, we would again come to some form of absurdity since, if there is Fate, then all of our actions are ultimately meaningless since what will happen would have happened anyway. In essence, we become spectators to the grand spectacle of our lives. both the ideas of Free Will and Fate concludes with Absurdity, as if the existentialists who believed that man is condemned to be free were right all along -- what is actually absurd is not the universe, but man's mortality: we all die, our actions are pointless.

Nave Haider said...

sure there is Absurdity everywhere, in both choice and the illusion of choice, but there's also some form of Speculation that comes with it. I THINK therefore I am, so the principle idea is THOUGHT, or SPECULATION. If there is free-will, you can speculate what you will choose. If there is fate, then you can still speculate (SINCE YOU EXIST) on what the grand plan is for your existence. In both cases, Speculation, like Absurdity, too is made possible. Since I am certain of only my own existence -- which is confirmed through the act of thinking/feeling/perceiving -- I am certain of SOMETHING (myself), while on the other hand if I talk about Absuridty I have to embrace UNCERTAINTY. But the very fact that I can define something as absurd means that it isn't: it means that it is already something that isn't what I am, something taht isn't certain, etc.

I profoundly agree with your idea that dualism and dichotomoy has sort of crippled our's extremely polarizing and in want of extremities, and in that mode of thinking it would be content with binary opposites.either/or, Good & Evil, Life & Death, Man & Beast, etc But as u've said, we need to move on from tht, perhps to a neither/nor or something better. The way I see it, and the way I want to redefine the word "Dichotomy" is this: Instead of placing it as a separation or reconciliation of opposites, it should simply be the middle ground. As Heraclitus said, "The path upwards is the path downwards" -- similarly what separates is also what unites. The reason why I believe this definition of Dichotomy is important for us as human beings is simple: we are mortals. It isn't as simple as "I think therefore I exist" (existentialism) or "I am going to die so what's the point" (nihilism/Absurdity) but rather a Dichotomy: "I both live and die." Within the condition of a mortal being I have Birth (existence) and Death (non-existence), therefore I have both. I myself, not a paradox, but a dichotomy of two extremes. Upon realising that, and facing the monster of chaos or the uncertainty posed by choice, I can move on to become both Man and Beast: I can find what defines me as a human being and that which defines me as something essentially beyond human. Therefore, a dichotomy.

-Nave Haider


Nave Haider said...

I think your entry has some strong parallels with what I'm trying to get at here, and I felt it was important that I share this with you. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts, unfortunately I'm posting this as anonymous because I don't have a blogger account or one from wordpress or google, but i'll leave my e-mail address here because I certainly want to talk more about this if you're interested.

In the meantime I'm trying to figure out if Dichotomy in the traditional sense of the word makes it unfit as a term for what I'm looking for here. It isn't as much a synthesis in the dialectical sense because it doesn't reconcile the opposites, but rather finds harmony and self-definition through the idea of compatibility instead of complimentary qualities. There is, of course, the Freudian perspective, which equates all absurdities to sexual repression, but I find that too reductive as it is.

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