TA101 (Mohrhoff)


Response 2 (to Commentary 3 (to R1, Müller))




by Ulrich Mohrhoff

23 March 2008, posted 29 March 2008



<C3:2>: For instance what is meant by ‘gradual transition’ (R1{1b} and {2d})? If UR corresponds to the unstructured ongoing subject-inclusive experience (SE), it seems to me that many aspects are created in it in an all-or-nothing fashion. Say for instance you walk along a street in a dense fog and then you see a ‘shape’. A bit later you decide this is a ‘person’. When you come still closer you decide it is a ‘bush’ of person-size. These changes are not gradual but stepwise, in terms of ‘entities’.




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.



The “gradation” mentioned by Sri Aurobindo in R1{2d} is not the “gradual transition” I mentioned in R1{1b}. Both are relevant to the issue at hand, but my intention in quoting Sri Aurobindo was merely to show that the Vedantic framework he adopts (and I follow him in this) should be regarded as a working ontology presented without claim to metaphysical truth. It would take me too far afield to explain the gradation to which Sri Aurobindo refers and relate it to the gradual transition to which I refer. The latter 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).




‘The manifested world’ : this sounds more or less like Heidegger who wrote that the world is uncovered, or that it reveals - manifests - itself as it already is (via ‘ἀλήθεια’ = ‘truth’ defined as un-hidden-ness or un-forgotten-ness of something that is already there and just needs to be found). He tried to write a ‘fundamental ontology’ starting from of phenomenology, which I think is self-contradictory. It pre-supposes a ready-made world, neglecting the crucial subject-inclusive structuring aspect. In a working-MIR (working-objective) view one can extrapolate from presently viable structures and construct a working-objective (better than naively MIR-objective) world.




We have to make do with an all too limited repertoire of words. The manifestation of UR as a world (or the manifestation of the world by, in, and out of UR), is not by any means the uncovering or revelation of pre-existent structure. It is the creation of structure (as determination of UR qua substance and as content of UR qua consciousness) by the creative conscious-force inherent in UR.



We do not need a fundamental ontology. Working-ontologies will do just fine. But it is not only the subject-inclusive structuring aspect that must not be neglected if, as I said, the subject is that of the individual surface consciousness.




‘The nature of physical space’ : this too involves our doing. We can leave it fuzzy (i.e., more or less unstructured), or we can follow Descartes and endow it with three dimensions (or now, in some theories, up to 23 dimensions, I understand). But how would this be ‘relations between UR and UR’, if UR = unstructured ongoing SE ?




Fuzzy does not mean more or less unstructured. It means that every one of the relations that constitute space in general and spatial forms in particular is properly described not by a definite relative position but by a probability distribution over the possible outcomes of a measurement of a relative position. UR is not the unstructured ongoing SE of your 0-D epistemology.




And what are ‘ultimate constituents’ ? Again I assume that the constituents are ‘entities’, of (for instance) visual-gestalt type. A problem in quantum-physics seems to be that the particles (are they the ultimate constituents ?) are not clearly defined as persistent gestalt-entities, one way or another (wave, particle). The statement that the ultimate constituents are ‘identical in the strong sense of numerical identity’ (TA101[8]) I take to mean that counting (mathematics) is more reliable than gestalt-features, with which I agree.




My reference to “ultimate constituents” is always accompanied by scare quotes. Apologies if I somewhere forgot to add them! There is just one ultimate constituent (UR), which is at the same time the ultimate continent. This has nothing to do with gestalt types (I think). Like UR, with which they are identical, the “ultimate constituents” are devoid of features (features we can get hold of by perception, perceptual imagination, or conception).



My attributing numerical identity to the so-called “ultimate constituents of matter” (a.k.a. “fundamental particles”) rests on the inconsistency of assuming the opposite with the actual behavior of these things as predicted by quantum theory and confirmed by experiment.




‘The UR is unstructured’ (R1 {1e}) : I see the encompassing unstructured ongoing experience (SE) as matrix or background or envelope which is always there; thus I am not sure about the term ‘manifestation’ in this context either. Structures emerge or are created within SE; thus I cannot see how structures can ‘consist of relations between UR and UR’. ‘Structures outside’ would imply either MIR-belief or as-if-MIR-belief.




I am dealing with structures that exist outside of our limited individual surface consciousness yet inside UR, which creates them out of itself (qua substance) within itself (qua consciousness). While the latter is obviously distinct from the limited individual surface consciousness, it is nevertheless accessible given the requisite effort. There is reality beyond the limited individual surface consciousness. There is no reality beyond the all-encompassing consciousness of UR. There is no consciousness-independent reality.




I am not sure that the distinction of ‘phenomenal brains’ versus ‘real brains’ ({1g}) is helpful. First we think and perceive etc., then at a later stage we can, but do not have to, expand our thinking by considering that we use the brain to do this; most of the time we don’t, and the ‘process of construction’ (TA101[22]) can go on without this consideration. Vision is subject-inclusive structuring just as all mental activity (structuring) is. Studying brain activity, or nervous system activity more generally, and its relation to phenomena in SE, is a specialized endeavour within SE, as are all specialized activities. Extrapolating from such special activity, one can then say that ‘of course brain activity happens always when one thinks, also when one does not think about brain activity’; but that is (secondary working-MIR-)objectivity. Perhaps one could talk about ‘thematic brains’ in connection with such studies, similar to ‘thematic weather’ when you concentrate on it.




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.”



By the same token, I maintain that much can be learned about the process of manifestation by studying phenomenal objects with the help of phenomenal instruments. But what is manifested is not phenomenal objects. Hence what we can learn by studying phenomenal objects with the help of phenomenal instruments is something about what may well be called “real objects.” I spoke in this sense of “the cherry made of molecules,” with the (eventual) understanding that molecules are instrumental in the manifestation rather than constituent parts or structures of the manifested.



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



Deep yogic inquiry, which must not be confused with the superficial methods of introspection that were used in Western psychology and phenomenology, looks beyond the surface self and discovers the one Self of all selves, looks beyond the surface object and discovers the one Object constituting all objects, and finds that this one Self within is identical with that one Object without. This opens a way to understanding the relation between subject and object — not by a linking of MIR-body to mind or of MIR-brain to consciousness but by (i) relating the surface self and the content of its consciousness to the one Self and (ii) relating the one Self to the content of ITS consciousness. (This latter content is independent of the individual surface consciousness and but of course not of the Self. If there is anything that corresponds to the MIR of the philosophizing surface consciousness, this is it.) While those relations are more complex and many-sided than anything the philosophizing surface consciousness has ever dreamed of, they are cognitively accessible by the appropriate means and thus form part of the humanly accessible universe of discourse.




The statement (in TA101[28]) that ‘colors exist in the directly perceived aspect of the manifested world’ sounds like a straight MIR-comment (see {2f}), and I think it is misleading.



(It’s going to take me a while to come back to <C3:9>.)



We have to remind ourselves of what is at the roots of perception, namely the fact that the ultimate perceiver in us (subliminal to our surface selves) is the creator of what corresponds to the MIR postulated by the philosophizing surface consciousness. It is the creator of a reality that is external to the surface consciousness but internal to UR qua all-encompassing consciousness.



We should further remind ourselves that the powers inherent in UR are, in this particular world of ours, evolving. Evolution presupposes an involution by which the stage is set for UR’s adventure of evolution. Without this “complicating” factor, creation would simply be the development of infinite quality/delight (the ananda of the Vedantic trinity sachchidananda) into expressive ideas or revealing forms. (If we think of UR as a consciousness containing the world, the world is an expressive idea or else a multitude of such ideas. If we think of UR as a substance constituting the world, the world is a revealing form or else a multitude of such forms).



The differentiation of the original relation between UR and its manifestation into two relations — that between consciousness and ideas and that between substance and forms — is a consequence of two occurrences. First, by distantiating itself from what consequently comes to be known as the content of its consciousness, UR takes on the aspect of a conscious Self. Second, by adopting a multitude of viewpoints within the content of its consciousness, the Self takes on the aspect of a multitude of situated selves.



Once there is a multitude of situated selves, there is the subject-object dichotomy, for the situated selves present themselves to each other as objects. Objects are subjects as seen by other subjects.



The world acquires its familiar spatial aspect only as a result of those two concomitant occurrences. Once the conscious self has distanced itself from the content of its consciousness, a distance exists between perceiver and perceived, and the perceived extends in two lateral dimensions, as a surface. Thus come into being viewer-centered depth and lateral extent, the familiar three dimensions of phenomenal space.



Once there are situated subjects presenting themselves to each other as objects, viewer-centered depth takes on the additional aspect of an objective distance (i.e., a distance between objects), and lateral extent takes on the additional aspect of an object surface. Thus comes into being the fiction of a mind-independent space containing mind-independent objects, along with the “hard problem” of consciousness and many other pseudo-questions. (Hard problems are best “solved” by understanding how they arise and how they become hard.)



The first step toward involution, which sets the stage for the drama of evolution, occurs when the multiple concentration by which the Self assumes the aspect of a multitude of situated selves, becomes exclusive: each situated self then loses sight of its identity with the other selves. We now have a world of seemingly separate conscious beings, who no longer seem to owe their existence to their common, world-creating Self and world-constituting Substance. And if it is indeed the intention of the Self to hide — perhaps it wants to “play Houdini” — then the creative action that proceeds from it directly (rather than indirectly through its situated selves and unbeknownst to them) will appear to be mechanical. This part of UR’s creative action will appear to be governed by inflexible laws.



UR’s creative action now has two components: one supra-individual and seemingly mechanical, the other through the individual and capable of modifying the seemingly inflexible laws. The range of “allowed” modifications varies, as does the individual’s degree of conscious participation in the action that proceeds through it.



There are several ways of defining “mind” in the Indian context. One of several equivalent definitions used by Sri Aurobindo is what becomes of UR qua all-containing consciousness when it multiply situates itself and looses sight (in each situated self) of its identity with its other selves. There are also several ways of defining “life” in this context. We may think of it here as the ability to modify the seemingly inflexible laws.



The involution of mind leaves us with a seemingly unconscious creative force, which remains capable of expressing ananda through the beauty of forms. The involution of life leaves us with seemingly inflexible laws that govern an apparent multitude of formless particles. The stage for the adventure of evolution has now been set.



Incidentally, the present digression provides a psychological explanation of how UR enters into spatial relations with itself (and thus creates both matter and space, space being the totality of spatial relations, matter being the corresponding apparent multitude of relata — apparent because the relations are self-relations).



Evolution is not simple the reverse of involution. Particles do not turn back into conscious individuals. Nor is evolution meant to be a rapid emergence of life, mind, and the original, supra-individual conscious force Sri Aurobindo calls “supermind.” Life is constrained by the minute range of the “allowed” modifications — far too minute to be experimentally distinguishable from UR’s unmodified (“physical”) action. Mind is constrained by its dependence on the organisms and organs that have thus far evolved.



There is an illusory free will, which is a necessary part of the drama of evolution, and there is a growing genuine free will. To the extent that it consciously participates in that part of UR’s creative action which proceeds through it, the individual participates in the freedom of UR.



The causal efficacy of the evolving mind exploits the limited susceptibility of the physical to modification by the mental. This happens in the brain, probably via the extreme sensitivity of the brain qua chaotic system.



What makes the causal efficacy of the surface consciousness possible (to the extent it’s genuine) is that it rides on the efficacy of UR’s creative self-knowledge. This is also what makes perception possible for the surface consciousness. Our perceptions depend for their existence on the ultimate identity of our situated selves with UR, which contains, constitutes, and created the real world.



J.R. Searle (Journal of Consciousness Studies Vol. 7, No. 10, pp. 3–22) appears to have got this right: intracranial goings-on are not sufficient for consciousness; they merely structure the content of a pre-existing consciousness. This consciousness is UR’s, individualized and looking through us at the content “out there” of its supra-individual consciousness. Both the individual consciousness and the brain are necessary for perception; neither is sufficient. While the latter is instrumental in structuring the content of the former, UR’s knowledge of the content of its supra-individual consciousness contributes to structuring the brain, thereby enabling whatever “likeness” is possible at the given stage of the evolution of mind.



The scare quotes around “likeness” are intended to signal that it’s the wrong word: we do not perceive a world that is more or less like the content of UR’s supra-individual consciousness. We look at this content — the real but not consciousness-independent world — from an individual perspective. We look at it through a “scope” that looks a certain way when we look at it but remains invisible while we look through it. What we see as we look through it is not an image but an aspect of the real world. Colors exist both in the real world and in this aspect. This is what I tried to express through the statement quoted by Müller in <C3:9>.




I am also not familiar with sophisticated yogic techniques (R1{2b-c}). Thus I try to translate some of those terms into my own (and would like to know your opinion on that).




Such translating is an inalienable part of communication and, unfortunately, also an inexhaustible source of confusion. As von Glasersfeld so rightly observed, we each construct our world on the basis of our experiences, and since there are no individuals with identical experiences, there are no individuals inhabiting identical worlds. For the most common and superficial kinds of experience, the impression of a shared world is easy enough to sustain, but as soon as we leave our common ground, it’s virtually impossible for us not to talk past each other. For those who have done their bit of reality construction, the temptation to assimilate each other’s terms into their own construction is virtually irresistible, yet it cannot but result in serious distortions, not least because the meanings of many terms depends on the meanings of many other terms within the same construct. Inasmuch as my construct takes account of a broader range of experiences than Müller’s, it is perhaps easier to embed his construct in mine than it is to embed my construct in his. But then you may say that this is because of the MIR-like elements of my construct.



<C3:10 continued>

According to Wikipedia, the ‘atman’ is a sort of soul, self, or also universal spirit, in Hinduism or Buddhism. ‘Mana’ is an impersonal force in people, animals, or objects that generates a sense of wonder...




The translation of Sanskrit terms into English is another source of confusion. I has been said that Sanskrit is the only language having developed a terminology sufficiently differentiated for dealing with the rich experience-structures known to the seers, sages, and yogis of India. “Mana” is not a term of Indian psychology. The word I used was manas. A decent list of yogic terms can be found at <http://en.mimi.hu/yoga/index_yoga.html>. The closest translation of manas would be sense mind, as distinct from buddhi (intellect) and citta (ordinary consciousness).




Concerning ‘dual-aspects’ ({3a-b}) : It would be helpful to clarify the mentioned points concerning ‘the manifested world’ etc.; they are the main reason for my impression of a dual-aspect view. In dualist views the MIR-view tends to take over in practice, if it is not explicitly excluded.




One could say that both UR and the world have a dual aspect, but only because the original relation between them acquires a dual aspect, and it only acquires it from or for the perspective of the individual situated self — recall [15]. We normally think in terms of subjects and objects. Yogic experience discovers that all selves are one Self, all objects are constituted by one Substance, and this Self and that Substance are identical. But of course if they are identical then they are neither subjective (as distinct from objective) nor objective (as distinct from subjective).




Ulrich Mohrhoff

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