TA101 (Mohrhoff)


Commentary 1


by Herbert FJ Müller
20 December 2007, posted 5 January 2008


Ulrich Mohrhoff’s anti-materialistic opinion coincides to a large extent with mine; but he comes from a different start-point, and there are consequently some differences of procedure and of results, which will be discussed in this communication.  This effort is incomplete, it is an attempt to compare notes, and to establish a base for possible later more detailed discussion, if desired.

In the following I respond to UM’s proposal (TA 101) in three steps, all of them subject to revision if needed. 


I try to summarize his proposal of a dual-aspect [19] theory of knowledge, and of the role of the brain in this context, as I understand it at present. 

He says [20] that the world is manifested as particles, which are behind the manifested macro-world [14] (‘the real cherry out there, made of molecules’ [1]).  The brain is an instrument for seeing an ultimate reality (UR), but in that case the instrument itself is not seen (it is transparent [24]), one would have to look along another axis to see it [21]. 

This UR is implied to be mind-independently pre-structured, since it is said to manifest itself [13], it is the substance by which the world, and also the self, exist [27].  UM calls the scientific notion of perception (along the lines of epistemological efforts since the time of Plato but minus the objections of critical philosophy; that is to say, naïve realism), the ‘hypothesis of faithful depiction’.

Phenomenal brains differ from real brains (this distinction did not become clear to me) in that only the latter construct visual worlds [22].  It would be naïve to deny the existence of unperceived aspects of the manifested world, and phenomenal objects are directly perceived aspects of it [23].  Neural processes of vision likely mediate perception of the manifested world rather than constructing it [25], and do not deal with the self [26].  

Colors are said to present a fundamental ontological mystery [28].  UM states [29] that quantities are merely instrumental in the manifestation of qualities.  By dividing items, one loses colors, and also items etc; what remains is undifferentiated UR.


I compare his proposal to my zero-derivation (0-D) view of structuring experience, as I have described it in several papers in the KJF.

The last item above, undifferentiated UR, is the start point for 0-D which remains unitary rather than being dualistic.  Dualities, such as mind (or self) and world are not ontic, but secondary and pragmatic only, structured within experience, which therefore encompasses all structures.  This eliminates the problem of mind-independently structured reality (MIR), which prevents studies of the mind-brain relation.

Subject-inclusive structuring takes place within such otherwise unstructured experience :  the created structures include in principle always the self as well as the world, and everything else, although one or more of them are mostly neglected.  Structured objects result from gestalt-function and -thinking, plus adoption of the results as reliable (and may be called working-real). 

The addition of words, with their communication power, and consequently often an implied universality, can result in a leap to the belief in metaphysics-ontology, i.e., the fiction that there is a mind-independent reality. 

In 0-D, ontology is a subject-inclusive working-instrument, of use for structuring and stabilization of thinking and communication.  But if in contrast entities are over-interpreted to be pre-structured in a mind-independent way, or manifest-in-themselves (‘given’, ‘onta’), this becomes metaphysics, i.e., fictitious, mysterious, impossible to verify or falsify.  It implies an inversion of thinking, where mental tools are promoted to mind-independent authorities (see TA78).

The ontology proposition is less of an issue with qualia such as pain or colors; colors are thus more straightforward and  -  if anything  -  present less of a mystery than other aspects of structured working-reality, for instance objects.  (UM’s view that color is more mysterious is a direct consequence of his traditional ontology, where mind-independently pre-structured material objects, whether macroscopic or microscopic, are the real reality, and qualia don’t fit into this scheme.) 

If I look at a cherry, or photograph it, or paint it, or eat it, it is just as real, only in a different way, as when I study its molecules.  There is no such thing as an UR-cherry.

Neurons and brains are working-object-structures too, within experience.  They can be used to study the physiology of mental function in objective (‘materialist’) terms, but if one tries to replace experience by neuronal events, one gets stuck, because subject-inclusive experience cannot become objective. 

This produces the difference between our use of the brain as mental organ and the brain studied as an object; the latter is only possible for to humans (UM’s transparency and difference in axes, [21][24]).  This point is related to the mysterious explanation by John von Neumann that the probability wave collapses when it ‘meets a consciousness’ (see TA93[41]).

Particles (and so forth) do not manifest themselves but may be adopted as working-real structures; the difficulties with quantum physics show that gestalt-thinking has limits of usefulness, and that counting (numbers) offers an access to more widely reliable procedures. 

Unperceived aspects of reality [23] become :  not-yet-experienced and/or not-yet-structured aspects. 


my evaluation of UM’s proposal in this light.

To start with his proposition of a dual-aspect view :  such double-ontology views result in predominance of objective-only mind-independently and subject-exclusive pre-structured reality (MIR), once it is admitted as a possibility, since it is more weighty, and much larger than the subjective-only part.  The subjective aspect then shrinks into a fuzzy appendix to the objective material reality.

‘We don’t expect the sensory system of a cockroach or a chipmunk to reveal the true nature of reality’ [3].
  Again, this statement makes sense only in the context of belief in the existence of a true nature or MIR-reality-in-itself (which is somehow revealed to humans but not chipmunks).

But the MIR-part would have to be a ‘faithful depiction’ [2] of a working-template (that is to say of a working-fiction posited by subjects).

MIR-belief can however be replaced by use of working-MIR, which remains a human instrument (like language, or mathematics, for instance), and that obviates the need for such traditional metaphysics. 

The difference between macro-world and micro-(or quantum-) world [6] can perhaps be explained at least in part by success or failure of visual gestalt techniques (see <2i> above; and TA93[53]). 

An emphasis on microscopic aspects of MIR-matter (micro-materialism) without correction of the inversion of thinking (see <2d> above), can have consequences like the idea of ‘thought-carrying and thought-retaining particles’ (see TA82 by De & Pal). 

The notion of manifest-ness also presents problems; it implies a subject and does not describe subject-free things-in-themselves.  What is manifest for one person may not be so for someone else (e.g., John L. O’Sullivan’s 19th century slogan of the manifest destiny of European settlers to conquer the West of North America). 

One can talk less equivocally about results of subjects’ experiencing qualia, or about the reliability of their using mental tools, such as gestalt-function, or counting. 

UM’s difference between phenomena and reality [22] also implies MIR-belief.  For 0-D (and for epistemological constructivism generally) there is no such difference (cf. also Nietzsche’s opinion that the apparent (scheinbare) world is the only one, and that the real world is a lie; Götzendämmerung, 1889).  The question is instead how adequate (viable) the structures are. 

That the brain perceives an already-structured manifested world [25] is unlikely (see :  
Brain and Visual Perception - The story of a twenty-five year collaboration - David H. Hubel and Torsten N. Wiesel’, Review by A Noë, Times Literary Supplement, #5379, 5 May 2006).

The many attempts to reduce experience to brain activity have failed; the best known one is probably Francis Crick’s ‘Astonishing Hypothesis’ (1994).  Brain activity is a human structure within ongoing experience, a very helpful and important tool, but it cannot objectify subjectivity (which vanishes in such attempts); nothing can. 


In summary, the main difference between our procedures appears to be:

UM uses a dualistic view assuming existence of mind-independently pre-structured reality (finding ready-made onta as opposed to phenomena), while I propose unitary subject-inclusive structuring within unstructured experience, with pragmatic-only differentiation (structuring working-entities).


Herbert FJ Müller
     e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>