TA101 (Mohrhoff)

Response 1 (to C1, Müller)


by Ulrich Mohrhoff
9 March 2008, posted 15 March 2008


Herbert Müller's commentary is "an attempt to compare notes, and to establish a base for possible later more detailed discussion, if desired." Desired it is, even though delays in responding may be inevitable.  In this response I confine myself to correcting perceptions by Müller that I perceive to be misperceptions, due in large part to the brevity of my rather complex thesis.


[Mohrhoff] 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].


In [20] I said "What is instrumental in the manifestation of the world is particles, atoms, and such."  This not quite the same as saying that "the world is manifested as particles."  Not "as" but "by means of." I envision what is instrumental in the manifestation of the world as being situated not in the manifested world but along a nonspatial, nontemporal dimension extending from UR (unitary, undifferentiated ultimate reality) to the manifested world.  As I said in [14], "Particles, atoms, and such ... are intermediate between UR and the world."  Thus the statement that "the world is manifested as particles which are behind the manifested macro-world" appears self-contradictory to me: "as" clashes with "behind."


The notion of a gradual transition from unitary UR to the manifested world is supported by

(i) the numerical identity of the so-called "ultimate constituents" of matter considered by themselves [8], out of relation to each other,

(ii) the nature of physical space - a set of more or less fuzzy relations between UR and UR [9,11],

(iii) the formlessness of the so-called "ultimate constituents" of matter [9],

(iv) the gradual emergence or coming into being of form, beginning with an (apparent) multitude of formless relata and proceeding via atoms, whose forms can only be described abstractly, as multidimensional probability distributions, and molecules, whose forms have visualizable aspects [15].


My introductory question [1] states how the problem is usually MISconceived: it ASSUMES that the perceived cherry is made of qualia, that there is a real cherry out there, and that this is made of molecules.  The manifested world does not contain the "real cherry out there."  Rather this is intermediate between UR and the manifested world. (The "the manifested macro-world" is somewhat tautological inasmuch as I identify the macroworld with the manifested world.)


The brain is not "an instrument for seeing an ultimate reality (UR)" but an instrument for seeing the manifested world.


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].


UR is unstructured.  It manifests itself by manifesting the world, but in so doing it does not cease to be (i) the unitary, undivided substance that constitutes all things and (ii) the unitary, undivided consciousness that contains all things.  The manifested world is structured, and structure even extends beyond the world into the continuum between UR and the manifested world, but it does not inhere in nor affect either the unstructured unitary substance or the unstructured all-encompassing consciousness.  Structures consist of relations between UR and UR.  All that the manifestation of UR adds to unmanifest UR ("UR itself") is self-relations.  As relations between UR and UR qua substance(s), they may be said to exist outside UR, and as relations between UR and UR qua consciousness (no plural here) they may be said to exist inside UR.


UR is NOT the substance by which the self exists.  As was stated quite clearly in [27], UR is (i) the substance by which the world exists and (ii) the self for which the world exists.  UR is one, but relates to the world (i) as all-constituting substance (by which the world exists) and (ii) as all-containing consciousness (for which the world exists).


Phenomenal brains differ from real brains (this distinction did not become clear to me) in that only the latter construct visual worlds [22].


By "phenomenal brains" I mean the brains that we (or at least neurosurgeons) perceive.  By "real brains" I mean the unperceived brains by means of which we perceive, without prejudice as to whether vision is adequately conceived as a process of (re)construction.  I mentioned "the fact that vision may be thought of as an elaborate process of construction" [22] without endorsing it.  What I meant in this context by saying that "phenomenal brains do not construct visual worlds - real brains do" is that IF vision were adequately conceived as a process of construction, THEN the construction would be done by the real brains.


Colors are said to present a fundamental ontological mystery [28] ... By dividing items, one loses colors, and also items etc; what remains is undifferentiated UR.


It's not the colors themselves that are the mystery but the correlations between qualities such as colors and quantities such as frequencies or reflectances.


"By dividing items, one loses colors" is somewhat misleading.  By dividing manifested objects into parts, the parts increasingly lose their differences (and at the same time cease to belong to the manifested world); at the end no differences are left and numerical identity obtains, not simply in consequence of the philosophical principle of the identity of indiscernibles but as a direct consequence of quantum statistics (which thereby empirically confirms said philosophical principle).  In the manifested world, colors belong to surfaces; they are manifested by means of surface reflectances.  Since particles, atoms, and molecules lack surfaces - they are instrumental in the manifestation of material surfaces - they also lack colors.  One can also invoke the fact that the frequencies in the spectrum of light sources limit the spatial resolving power of optical instruments including eyes.  At smaller length scales there is nothing to see, in particular no colors.


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.


"Experience encompasses all structures."  Whose experience ?  Suppose I'm genetically color blind but I've studied color; I've observed people talking about colors and I've ready a lot about what has been written about the subject.  Am I not entitled to construct a working ontology that features colors ?


What about the experiences that become accessible by means of sophisticated yogic techniques ?  And what about the techniques themselves ?  How did the ancient Indian sages arrive at them ?  I'm not talking about western introspective methods, which can be compared to the attempt to develop astronomy by asking people on the street to look at the sky and collating their reports.  Astronomy has more sophisticated tools at its disposal, and so has psychological research, at least in India.  (It is true that when academic psychology was introduced in India in 1905, the rich Indian traditions, which were perceived by the British rulers as emanating from the primitive notions of a backward people, were left out of the curriculum, and that it stayed that way until the year 2000, when the Indian Council of Philosophical Research sponsored the first conference devoted entirely to the development of new approaches to psychology based on traditional Indian psychology and yoga.  Since then there has been a dramatic increase in interest in this subject.  There have been conferences and seminars devoted to various aspects of Indian psychology in all corners of the country.  A rapidly expanding group of psychologists are studying psychological theories and methods based on the spiritual traditions of India.  Recommendations for curricula, teaching and research methods are being framed and slowly but increasingly implemented.)


Sophisticated techniques require guidance and practice.  The first major result is a complete disentanglement of the self (atman) from the activities of the mind (manas).  The ensuing stillness allows subtleties of perception that are not possible to the mind engrossed in the relentless flow of its thoughts.  (While a rough sea can only reflect large-scale objects like trees or the sun, the absolutely still water of a pond can reflect branches and leaves or the stars at night.)  The objectivity - in the sense of detachment, impartiality, clearheadedness - of this witness consciousness (sakshi) far surpasses the objectivity that can be achieved by the mind, entangled as this is with preconceptions, predilections, beliefs and opinions, likes and dislikes.  Since knowledge always translates into power, the refinement of the inner instruments (antahkarana) brings in its wake genuine powers (siddhis), such as the ability to enter and explore non-physical frames of experience (a.k.a. "worlds" or "planes of existence") or to enter quite literally into someone else's mind and experience what he or she is experiencing.  A competent spiritual guide can know better what happens in a disciple's consciousness than the disciple him- or herself.  All subjective data thus reside in a potentially shareable universe, a cosmic consciousness.  Unlike the MIR claim that all objective data reside, or are rooted, in a shared mind-independent universe, this claim can be verified by those who are qualified to do so (and this is not an empty set).  Finally, the faculties of the mind can be replaced by (or integrated into) a far greater power of consciousness.  Essentially, this is the power by which UR (the Indian brahman) manifests itself. Unlike the mind, which perceives and acts perspectivally from here and now, this perceives and acts aperspectivally (to use the terminology of Jean Gebser) from everywhere and everywhen.  And it knows its all-containing self to be identically with the all-constituting substance. Its creative imagination is the force that shapes this substance.


I want to emphasize that the structure I have outline is a working ontology in Müller's sense.  When, for example, Sri Aurobindo discusses the non-physical worlds, he takes care to point out that


"The principle of gradation we have accepted is justified provided we recognise that it is one way of organising our experience and that other ways proceeding from other viewpoints are possible.  For a classification can always be valid from the principle and viewpoint adopted by it while from other principles and viewpoints another classification of the same things can be equally valid.  But for our purpose the system we have chosen is of the greatest value because it is fundamental and answers to a truth of the manifestation which is of the utmost practical importance; it helps us to understand our own constituted existence and the course of the involution and the evolutionary motion of Nature."  (Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, Pondicherry, 2005, p. 815)


Even when it "answers to a truth of the manifestation," what matters is that it is of the utmost PRACTICAL importance.


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.)


Once again, I did not say that color is mysterious.  What I said is that the CORRELATIONS between qualities such as colors and quantities such as frequencies or reflectances are mysterious.  They are not ?


My ontology is traditional ???  If there is a mind-independent structure in it, it is that of a consciousness that exceeds mind in knowledge and power.


There is no such thing as an UR-cherry.


Of course not.


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.


Right on the money!


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.


Dual aspect ?  The unitary consciousness that contains is one with the unitary substance that constitutes.  The power of imagination by which consciousness creates its content is one with the force that shapes substance.  The world that exist for UR qua self is the same as the world that exists by UR qua substance.


More weighty ?  Much larger ?  This merely testifies to the insignificance of the average person's surface consciousness as compared to the subliminal ranges of experience inaccessible to him or her.  In any sufficiently developed yogic experience of the world, it is the objective aspect that "shrinks into a fuzzy appendix to" the subjective immaterial 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).


The point was exactly that if a cockroach or chipmunk has no access to the true nature of reality, then neither have we.


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.


This point is subsumed by my working ontology.




Ulrich Mohrhoff
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