TA101 (Mohrhoff)


Commentary 4 (to R2)


by Herbert FJ Müller
31 March 2008, posted 5 April 2008


Thank you for your reply R2 and your frank discussion.
  It has clarified a number of points, and prepares the next step :  further discussion of a general point and a few specific ones, where it appears that we differ in more than terminology.  Much of these differences and difficulties in understanding is evidently due to my not being familiar with Indian philosophy.



R2[11]  0-D epistemology refuses to speculate about what is inaccessible to the limited surface consciousness but not experientially inaccessible per se.’ 

I would put this a little differently.  0-D is not only a refusal ‘to speculate about what is inaccessible’, which implies the existence of pre-structured truth beyond.  It goes a step further :  there is nothing to speculate about; instead one has to create, where needed, structures in the unstructured; this includes accepting what has others have created before.  That is to say that with some crucial amendments (see below) I endorse Nietzsche’s opinion :  Aber damit wird Heraklit ewig recht behalten, dass das Sein eine leere Fiktion ist.  Die “scheinbare” Welt ist die einzige :  die “wahre Welt” ist nur hinzugelogen.’ (Götzen-Dämmerung (1889), Die “Vernunft” in der Philosophie, para.2).  This also determines my opinion concerning the next sentences :

(contd.) ‘There is a negative as well as a positive aspect to this refusal.  Positive it is in that it rids us in one fell swoop of a truckload of metaphysical rubbish; this clears the ground for deeper inquiry.  Negative it is in that by limiting our cognitive reach to the means that the surface consciousness has at its disposal, it stands in the way of such inquiry.’ 

The main thrust of 0-D is that we structure, rather than find or inquire (including whatever may be claimed to be the true or deeper world behind appearances; the latter seem to correspond to your ‘surface consciousness’, but this could be a somewhat misleading concept; cf. Nietzsche, above).  We can only start from SE, and always remain in the SE bubble, including getting at what you call ultimate reality (UR).  In that sense 0-D does indeed stand in the way of looking for ‘deep’ reality (namely for mind-independently pre-structured onta = metaphysics) :  it urges structuring rather than finding, though with the help of others and of tradition.  But we do find out, via feedback, whether the created, accepted, and used structures are adequate or need change.  That is to say :  if we do not want to postulate mind-independently pre-structured reality (MIR) we can only ‘find’ structures we have created, accepted, and used.

My amendments to Nietzsche’s incomplete statement are :  his insight that there are no given mind-independent (MIR)-truths or -realities does not imply that one should not create and/or use working-structures, including holistic ones.  It is a question of structuring as needed, not cognition of something already mind-independently there but somehow hidden; although the latter is a very common notion.  It implies a misunderstanding to call working-(= as-if-)ontology including holistic and deep (general-principle-)structures ‘lies’, ‘empty fictions’ (or ‘delusions’, as Dawkins does in his attempt to convert theology into an ‘objective science’, which he seems to think is the ultimate criterion of reality and truth; see TA106 [3]ff).  They are not lies, fictions, or delusions, in case one remains aware that they are human creations, necessary tool-structures rather than the alleged absolute MIR-truths or -realities. 

We need to structure in order to have guidelines for thought and action; we need to structure holistically because there is a dearth of biologically-produced non-deliberate structures, general principles, near the center of SE (see <12> below), resulting in an instinctual under-determination (thus uncertainty) of thinking and action as compared to non-verbal animals.  You talk about an ‘ultimate perceiver’ in us who is the creator (R2[13]), but we don’t need to postulate such a Doppelgänger.  If we (‘the self’) are or become aware of the need for structuring, we can (among other possibilities) utilize various traditions as guidelines to follow in that structuring activity, but the structures must always remain open for scrutiny. 

It is a question of where entities come from, of who does what, of responsibility if you like.  The structures are often seen as external to SE, but I don’t believe this is a required feature as you seem to suggest (R2[13]).  The practical difficulty here is to be able to rely on such working-structures while also being aware that they are human creations; a ‘fear of flying’ may result in falling back onto a postulated fictitious outside reality and/or authority. 

I will try to discuss some of your concepts in this light.



R2 [1] ‘If the subject is that of the individual supraliminal or surface consciousness, then UR does not correspond to the “unstructured ongoing subject-inclusive experience”.  My reflections (including “surface consciousness” and “individual”) are situated in a working ontology that takes account of the spiritual experiences and intuitions of yogis and mystics across continents and throughout the ages.  Such an ontology cannot proceed from the phenomenally encompassing surface consciousness of the individual.  It has to proceed from UR, which does not correspond to anything in particular because particulars only arise within its creative self-experience.  In relation to the content of this experience it can however be described as both all-encompassing consciousness and all-constituting substance.  The content of this creative experience is not at first differentiated into subjects and objects. In other words, there is at first a single self and a single substance, both coextensive with the content and, in fact, identical.’

TA101[13]ff : ‘how does UR manifest itself ? … particles … etc … are intermediate between UR and the world … forms in the widest sense are sets of fuzzy spatial relations … forms in a narrower sense are those that can be visualized “as they are”.  The smallest structure that can be so visualized corresponds to the sticks in the chemist’s balls-and sticks model of a molecule. … supervenience of the microscope on the macroscopic. … [19]ff The relation between UR and the world has a dual aspect :  UR is not only the substance by which the world exists but also the self for which it exists. … [21] If UR lies in any direction relative to the world, this direction is “perpendicular” to every axis in space.  The proposition is that much the same is true of the self :  it looks through the brain, from a direction that is “perpendicular” to space.  … ’

I am not sure I understand this; but let me say how I see it.  For the difference and relation between surface consciousness and UR, see <5> above.  In 0-D, all structures, entities, etc., are created (and/or accepted form others) and used inside encompassing SE, which is to varying degree shared with others.  Aside from present input from others, it can also assimilate the traditional wisdom of many generations, though that takes much effort.  That can suggest what directions to take, possibilities, limitations.  But still ongoing SE is the only possible entrance to knowledge, from which it can proceed; there is no other way.  The ‘self’, the ‘other’, ‘particles’, ‘space’, ‘axes’, ‘the world’, but also holistic structures like ‘God’, ‘universal spirit’, and other varieties like ‘UR’ or ‘TOEs’, can only be formed or accepted within (individual-and-shared) SE. 

Structures crystallize (are formed), together with the pragmatic differences or splits between them (dichotomies, R2[16]-[17]), within the unstructured encompassing SE matrix or background or envelope.  Holistic structures are attempts to structure everything, which is desired for stability of thinking, but self-contradictory because the center of SE cannot be structured (since structures form within SE, SE cannot be a structure within itself).  This is the reason why holistic structures are always paradoxical and/or mystical.  UR can neither be a substance nor the self; although the holistic structure can to a degree become identical with the self in mysticism (see for instance TA106 [10] to [12]).  But in principle that could engender hybris.

The relation of UR to the world must be the one of SE, which is the world’s unstructured matrix or envelope, which you mention as one of two possibilities in R2[14].  But then you also say that ‘UR is not unstructured’ (R2[5]).  UR as a structured substance would be ‘discoverable’ as pre-structured (even in case you see UR as as-if-MIR, of which I am not certain, although you say that you want working-ontology = as-if-MIR); while on the other hand you say that you do not want a fundamental ontology à la Heidegger (R2[4]).  

‘Structures that exist outside … individual … consciousness yet inside UR’ (R2[8]) could mean either one of two things :  metaphysics; or else tradition (see <11> above).  And if UR = ultimate constituents = fundamental particles (R2[7]), quanta become identical with ongoing experience, an idea which has in recent decades been in favour in some ‘scientific consciousness’ debates (and was also suggested in the TAs 81-82 by De&Pal and the recent ones by Vimal in KJF).  But I really think that turns things upside down, because entities such as particles are structured within SE and therefore cannot be its basis.  It would amount to a sort of MIR-micro-materialist view of mind; and for the moment I don’t see that the small ‘size’ of the material entities makes it different from the usual (‘macro’-)MIR-materialism.



R2 [
2] … the gradual transition to which I refer … is a straightforward consequence of quantum theory once its formalism is interpreted in light of this working ontology. These are the steps : 

(i) To get from One to Many, UR enters into spatial relations with itself. The result is an apparent multitude of “fundamental particles” - “apparent” because the relations are self-relations. Considered by themselves, these “Many” are numerically identical and identical with UR. There is nothing to differentiate them from each other or from UR. UR lacks forms in the widest Platonic sense; and so does a fundamental particle. All the properties that physicists attribute to their fundamental particles are specifics of the kinetic or dynamical relations between particles. 

(ii) Forms (in the special spatial sense) resolve themselves into sets of spatial relations between formless (and numerically identical) “parts.” Because of the indefiniteness (rather than “uncertainty”) of the quantitative aspect of each spatial relation, forms can only be described abstractly, in terms of multidimensional probability distributions, as statistical correlations between position measurements. Form (in this sense) emerges by aggregation, as the bound state of a multi-component system — apparently “multi.”

(iii) Some forms (in this non-visualizable sense of “form”) have visualizable aspects. Atoms have none. Molecules have some. “Form” in the ordinary sense (i.e., the visualizable aspect of form in the wider sense) emerges with the coming into being of chemical bonds.

Thus one can certainly speak of a gradual transition from formless, undifferentiated UR to this world of material forms (forms being spatial relations between UR and UR, matter being the implied apparent multitude of relata). ’

Again, I have some difficulties with these points. 

Encompassing SE as the origin is ‘one’ (R2[32]), and ‘many’ entities (including the world, particles, etc as well as the self and others) can be structured within it.  One can observe single particles, or at least their effects, separate from the ones of other particles, for instance in a cloud chamber, and then they have some individuality, at least in being observed as single items, and in the path they follow.  And I think I have seen photographs of single gold atoms.  Also I am not sure what is meant by Many” are numerically identical and identical with UR’, or by ‘UR enters into spatial relations with itself’.  The notion of ‘space’ too is itself a structure created within SE.  Of course particles are numerically identical, but so are people, or countries (for instance China and Liechtenstein are one each).

That  Forms
(in the special spatial sense) resolve themselves into sets of spatial relations between formless (and numerically identical) “parts”  is not clear to me.  Forms are basic properties of visual-gestalt function, and they don’t resolve themselves into relations between formless parts, although they can be ambiguous, like the Necker cube.  The visual cortex can detect (i.e., structure) forms; it has for instance edge- or line-detector cells.  So far I don’t see that there is a gradual transition from formless to formed; as I mentioned in C3 it seems to me that the visual-gestalt-form function has all-or-nothing properties.

A conceptual problem of quantum-physics seems to be that the visual-gestalt definition procedure can become difficult or even impossible, as in wave-particle duality, although countable entities still remain.  Now to my knowledge no one has ever shown that visual-gestalt function is fundamental and guarantees MIR; it is just one of various tools for dealing with experience (namely entity-structuring).  And besides, MIR-belief is an error, although it is routine in science and elsewhere.  Counting (including statistics) has a wider reach, and is more reliable for dealing with entities, but it does not produce entities; they need to be already structured, or at least defined in some way (e.g., action-units of counting on fingers), in order to be available for a counting action. 



R2[9] ‘ The so-called subjective goings-on we are familiar with are correlated with so-called objective intracranial goings-on.  What we know of the latter is indeed part of the subject-inclusive experience of our limited surface consciousness; it is knowledge of phenomenal brains.  Yet I do not think that one can deny that quite a bit has been learned about perception (particularly visual perception) by studying these phenomenal brains.  But phenomenal brains are not the creators of phenomena.  Hence what we have learned by studying phenomenal brains is something about something that somehow is instrumental to visual perception (my point in [22] of TA101.)  This I call “the real brain.” ’

Brains are phenomena to start with; but as you say, brain studies have produced much helpful information concerning SE.  They show what is necessary or instrumental for SE to occur (just as DNA is instrumental for the occurrence of most of life).  But this knowledge about the mechanics of instrumental brain and nervous activity (and also of necessary DNA), happens within SE, and therefore cannot ‘explain’ consciousness (nor life), although that has sometimes been proposed.  What you call the telescopic aspect (TA101[24]) of the real brain seems to mean the instrumental-for-SE aspect of brain and CNS function.  A difference from telescopes is that humans and animals can use the brain without any knowledge or even awareness of it (the knowledge of brain function can actually interfere with understanding, as in mind = brain theories; cf. also <33> below).



The difference between ‘instrumentality’ and ‘constitution’ in the manifestation of ‘the [real] cherry made of molecules’ (R2[10]) also requires some further discussion.  The ‘manifestation’ seems to mean something like gestalt-closure  -  but that does not depend on molecules.  In my view, subject and object, and the split between them, are all structured, pragmatically, and defined, within SE (R2[12]).  The ‘one self of all selves’ (R2[12]) seems to refer either to holistic structure, or else to far-reaching sharing of experience (see <11> above).  As you say, no MIR consideration is needed for that.

I would say that there is one persistent self in multiple situations rather than multiple selves (R2[15]-[16]); although the self needs continuous re-evaluation.  Quick uncontrolled changes in self, or multiple selves, are likely to signal psychological problems. 

The ideas of ‘involution’ and ‘evolution’ of mind (R2[20]ff) seem helpful :  the way I would put it is that one can and should allow oneself to disengage from presently used structure in order to take distance and permit re-structuring.  This is a practical way to take into account that all mental structures are in principle ad-hoc and temporary, not absolute and permanent.  That allows indeed for ‘creation of matter and space’ (R2[23]-[24]), but not for ‘UR entering into spatial relations with itself’ because ‘space’, as well as ‘particles’, which are structured within SE, vanish in the ‘involution’ phase like everything else.

The ‘content of consciousness out there’ or of ‘UR’s supra-individual consciousness’ (R2[28]-[29]) could be re-phrased as the possibilities and limitations we find (via feedback) when using the personal and/or shared structures.  That would prevent the notion of pre-fabricated metaphysics, which is suggested by terms like ‘real world’, and also take into account the individuality of the one who does the structuring (R2[30]). 



Qualia are structures without or with only rudimentary gestalt properties; since gestalt is often taken to mean reality (i.e., entities), qualia are sometimes said to be less real than gestalt-defined ‘entities’. 

Your argument that objects start out as multiple subjects or selves (R2[14]ff) seems similar to the (‘idealistic’) monadology of Leibniz, where the single monads relate to a central (God) monad.  The problem I see in this monadology is that it explicitly assumes closed pre-structured permanent identities ‘with no windows’, in Leibniz’s words.  A pragmatic subject-object split is preferable; it does not imply disappearance of the subject (R2[19]) and establishes objects within SE via structuring-activity, which is in principle ad-hoc and temporary even if long lasting, and thus avoids MIR.  The subject vanishes only in subject-exclusive objectivity which is an avoidable side-effect of the effort to combat subjective bias. 

Touch, smell, color, pain, etc, are biologically determined non-deliberate structures with little or no word-gestalt-identity features.  After involution and evolution <27> they are likely to be more or less the same as before.  Is that what you mean by saying that ‘colors exist within the real world and in [the looked-at respect] ?’ (R2[28])   Despite the directness of color experience, color-naming can be interfered with by words in a language for which one is literate (Stroop-effect) :  the printed colors of the words
are more quickly named than those of 
But this is a difficulty due to involuntary interference by the acquired language- (word-) meaning function rather than by the color function itself.  It illustrates that language-fixed concepts (which have been structured during life) can not only facilitate and stabilize, but also complicate and distort, more direct thinking and action; the non-deliberate interference requires a deliberate effort to overcome it.  We can get caught in our own structures. 



This illustrates a more general point.  If language-(gestalt-)thinking-structures are permitted to become  mind-independent, they escape control and may play tricks on their users.  There are many other examples of snags resulting from fixed-structure thinking :  the claim by Zeno of Elea that movement is impossible, when fixed distances are seen as primary; the one by P Beamish that experience does not flow, when ‘now’ is a primary entity (cf. C30 to TA92); the idea of primary mind-independent dimensions that produce the notion of the pre-determined block universe, and consequently loss of free will;  assumption of ontic primacy of brain functions, interfering with phenomenological description (<24>); the window-less monads of Leibniz (<30>); religious pre-occupation with creation which prevents acceptance of evolution, etc.,etc.; but the chief and most general example is of course traditional metaphysical thinking as a whole.  The involution-evolution procedures (<27>) should be able to help with at least some of these difficulties.  One needs to allocate distance to the structured tools, and remain aware that humans, not some fictitious external authorities, do the structuring.


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