TA107 (Rosen)


Commentary 5 (to R4)


by Herbert FJ Müller
10 June 2008, posted 14 June 2008


Steven Rosen’s stimulating reply to my previous commentary prompts me in turn to also ‘defend my position’ [7] against his objections.  The topic under discussion has wide significance, as we are both aware, although we start with a different aim, which in his case is physics, in mine the mind-brain relation.  We both agree too on the need for a subject-inclusive epistemology.


A suitable start point for a subject-inclusive epistemology can be Jaspers’ central concept of ‘encompassing’ mind (or consciousness, or ongoing experience), if it is used in a comprehensive way.
  By this I mean that ‘encompassing’ is not limited by objective science (as Jaspers himself had later on suggested; this may have been the reason why he finally committed himself to what he called ‘peri-echontology -  but objectivity can be accommodated as a method within experience).


All mental structures originate (are structured) within this ‘lived’ [6] encompassing experience, which is not otherwise structured (zero-derivation, 0-D).  This includes simple structures such a pain, smell, color (‘qualia’); and also more ‘shaped’ ones like gestalt-formations; and furthermore more specifically human ones like words or numbers.  Self, world, others, all, and also religious entities are structured, and also the differences between them, as desirable and possible (i.e., pragmatically and ad-hoc).  They are tried out with feedback during use (except for un-testable notions like eschatological ones, which have to be used on faith only).


In my opinion this does not imply ‘subjectivist reduction’ [1,4].  The subject or self is only one among other structures, and so are matter, or objects, or society, or God, etc.  In contrast, no experience (or reality) can lack subject(s); this statement is quite different from subjectivist reduction.  The basis is (subject-inclusive) encompassing experience, within which all structures emerge, including ‘self’ or ‘subject’. 


Let me compare this proposition with Heidegger’s [2-4] concept of
ἀ–λήθεια as ‘un-forgotten-ness’, 'disclosedness', or ‘un-coveredness’, (Erschlossenheit, in ‘Sein und Zeit’ (1927) § 44).  After discussing the opinions of Parmenides and Aristotle, who discussed truth and being together, he wrote :  Dasein is in the truth (ist in der Wahrheit). This statement has ontological meaning. ...’  


It seems to me that one can only ‘unforget’, ‘disclose’ or ‘uncover’ something if it is already there as ready-made unit(s) [6].  At a minimum this ἀλήθεια concept does not preclude the possibility that truth and/or being (reality) could already have been there in pre-structured form, and subject-independently, before the uncovering.  In other words, even though Heidegger may have become more subtle in his views later on [2-3], the subject-inclusive structuring aspect is missing here (or at least not clearly present, though I am not claiming that he intended to exclude it).  And further, ‘ontology’ has traditionally referred to mind-independently pre-structured (MIR) entities, and still does.  It excludes the subject by definition.  Frankly I would not know what a ‘subject-inclusive ontology’ might be, it is a self-contradictory proposition; and to my knowledge Heidegger’s ‘fundamental ontology’ project did not succeed. 


In comparison, the advantage of the structuring-in-the-encompassing view is that it is clearer :  the subject is guaranteed to be there from the start and to persist, along with the rest of ‘reality’, so long as the encompassing aspect is kept in mind.  ‘Truth’ and ‘reality’ are structures we trust, preferably after testing them with feedback (and if we like we can even call a satisfactory test result ‘disclosed reliability’, and say that the subject – or Dasein – posits himself in his trusted truth and reality). 


For me this is an important feature because I am interested in the mind-brain relation puzzle (see TA1 and TA45, etc., in KJF) which has so far defeated all attempts to solve it; I see it as a touch-stone for the viability of epistemological views.  Namely, for many other conceptual problems one can try to find a solution that works around subject-inclusion, actually excluding the subject(s), but not for this one.  The 0-D answer is that the problem how the mind emerges from the brain is a mistaken question; the brain (body, etc.) is a concept in the mind.  This does not interfere with objective studies of brain functions etc., necessary for mental function.  The same applies for other objective science including physics, although much of objective science gets away with old-fashioned MIR-belief (genetics for instance; but if geneticists discuss matters where this is not possible, like religion, on that same MIR basis, they are in deep water; see TA106).


‘Phenomena’ are spontaneous working-structures.  They say nothing about an underlying ontology, i.e., the fiction of reality-in-itself including ‘absolutes’; that comes with the learning of object-persistence (Piaget), and with the supra-individual effect of language, where MIR-belief is more practical than working-MIR.  But it is nevertheless an extrapolation from structured ongoing experience, pace Einstein’s moon, the long-distance properties of entangled particles, or the Big Bang.  A prominent aspect of the motivation to postulate MIR and absolutes is a wish for mind-external guarantees of reality; people want certainty – which cannot be obtained; actually, being certain is foolish.


Spontaneous structures require our doing too.  Pain can be abolished by anaesthetics, odours by a cold, colours and visual gestalt-formations can be manipulated in many ways.  More complex structures differ from them by deliberateness, and by the use of invented tools like words or numbers, which enable a greatly increased social effectiveness; but the conceptual basis is the same.


While remaining within experience, we can produce ‘working-metaphysics-ontology’, for the purposes of stability and social coordination of thinking, and for trying out new structures, which may or may not work.  This changes traditional metaphysics-ontology (the notion of fictitious mind-independently pre-structured entities, MIR-belief) into a subject(s)-inclusive working tool, working- or as-if-MIR. 


But in order to preclude a terminological confusion, it may be better to use an expression like ‘meta-phenomenal design’ instead of ‘working metaphysics-ontology’, or ‘working-MIR’; the new term implies and emphasizes the active role of the subject(s), and the tool-nature of this structure.  The terms ‘metaphysics’ and ‘ontology’ in the traditional meaning then become irrelevant, as do ‘noumena’, ‘things-in-themselves’. 


Objectification of the subject [5] is impossible.  Objects need structure.  If we understand subjective experience as encompassing, there is always an active structuring center that cannot itself become structured.  The mostly implicit assumption that subjectivity (consciousness, the mind) can become an object is a leading cause for the long failure to deal with the mind-brain problem.  It is also not a matter of ‘questioning the subject-object split’ [5], but instead there is a change from an imagined primary (ontological) split to a secondary (pragmatic) one.  [5] ‘...
a subject split off from what is object cannot encompass ... lived (i.e., non-objectified) subjectivity’ :  the subject cannot ‘be split off from objects’, because the objects emerge as tools within the (‘lived’, not abstract [7]) subjective experience.


A subject-inclusive epistemology does include this subject [7] if s(he) is aware of the encompassing aspect.  Concerning the relevance of this matter to personal subjectivity [7], one might compare it to a discussion of the physiology of breathing :  that could be done on an entirely theoretical level, but at the same time one needs to breathe;  same for thinking.

In summary, so far it seems to me that awareness of the encompassing aspect of mind (consciousness, ongoing experience) is a necessary and sufficient precondition for a subject-inclusive epistemology.

Let me repeat that I greatly appreciate this stimulating discussion.




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