KARL JASPERS FORUM
Response 2 (to Fisher and Moodey)
EMBODIMENT AND REIFICATION
( AND P.F. STRAWSON’S NEO-METAPHYSICS )
by Herbert FJ Müller
21 February 2009, posted 28 February 2009
In response to the recent interest in the topic of ‘embodiment’ (see discussion to TA110) :
As I have mentioned in an earlier communication, it appears to me that this term is an attempt to replace the subject-inclusive mind by a subject-exclusive objective expression. That is the opposite of the emphasis on the encompassing nature of subjective experience, which Jaspers has emphasized, and which is the basis for the 0-D view. The question of ‘reification’ in particular raises the one of metaphysics, which has so far not been addressed. I will elaborate on this point.
First, a statement of the 0-D structuring position (from TA112 ) :
Deliberate Thinking : Encompassing Mind At The Center Versus No Mind
... For 0-D, the encompassment is a fundamental condition and determining feature. In order to deal with the mind-brain question, the encompassment needs to be understood as valid without restriction (and this goes actually further than Jaspers’ proposition, who still maintained some MIR-belief).
Because the mind creates and modifies its structures actively and concurrently within ongoing experience, thinking cannot be confined to already-structured algorithmic processes. For the same reason, the possibility of metaphysics-ontology, i.e., of pre-structured mind-independent ‘outside reality’ is explicitly excluded as such; it is converted into ongoing subject-inclusive reality-design. That leads directly to the 0-D position. This consequence of the encompassment aspect of experience may at first come as a surprise, but is inevitable. One can commence thinking only from this anthropo-morphic design start-point within ongoing experience : the subject(s)’ activity is always included. The awareness that reality is constructed with subject-participation is itself an aspect of reality. It becomes a fundamental insight of the theory of knowledge (epistemology, Erkenntnis-Theorie).
In contrast, the exclusive-objectivity position (mind-independent reality, MIR) :
Some 19th and 20th century epistemological views have explicitly tried to eliminate the subject from consideration; in that regard they were a radicalization of classical metaphysics and of the mechanistic ideas of Descartes and others. The following material is mostly condensed from the Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 1967. My comments are added in [brackets].
The mathematician Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) wanted to design a complete formalization of sentential logic. His primary aim was to activate a rigor which was an ideal of 19th century mathematics : complete formalization of proofs which would require no appeal to intuition [for which subjects would be needed]. He wanted to demonstrate the truth of sentences per se, and to define all arithmetical notions in terms of purely logical ones. But this project was complicated by Russell’s paradox : the set of all sets which are not a member of themselves both is and is not a member of itself. Frege wanted to determine the meaning of words only by their actual use, independently of mental images. He claimed that the meaning of words becomes clear only through the sentences in which they are used. ‘Proper names’ were related to (‘given’) objects in a wide sense, including numbers. Finally he concluded that this was an erroneous project. [Traditional metaphysics-ontology, MIR-belief, is clearly implied in his attempt, but apparently not discussed or even explicitly mentioned.]
The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) saw the central problem of philosophy as bringing together logico-deductive schemes [which he saw as reliable] and the ‘vague world of our experience’. In his ‘method of extensive abstraction’, for instance, he started from ‘volumes’ which he said ‘can be experienced’, and shrank them successively to one-dimensional ‘lines’ or zero-dimensional ‘points’ which one cannot experience [i.e., pre-supposing a primacy of geometric tools]. He wrote about ‘eternal objects’ that are ‘pure potentials’, similar to Platonic-Aristotelian universals, which can be ‘activated’ in specific instances. He analyzed nature into ‘events’ and ‘objects’ for which one has ‘prehension’ as well as ‘appetition’. And although he emphasized (in contrast to Hume) that for this there has to be ‘a functioning physiological organism’, and that ‘my unity [of mind] is my process’, it seems that he saw all his results as metaphysical [that is, dealing with MIR], both for the world (‘objects’) and mathematical entities like volumes, lines, or points. Concerning mind and brain he thought that ‘there should not be different entities, they should all have the same general character’ [from the 0-D point of view this misses the encompassing character of the mind, which Jaspers made a central concern].
The mathematician David Hilbert’s (1862-1943) program was to provide a secure foundation and formalization for all of mathematics, completeness, consistency, conservation of results in uncountable sets, and an algorithm for deciding the truth or falsity of any mathematical statement [which eliminates any need for subjective activity].
The philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) started from Hegel’s [idealistic] ‘unity of consciousness’, but then rejected it in favour of epistemological ‘atomism’ of things existing in themselves [i.e., metaphysics, MIR-belief]. He was preoccupied with a quest for certainty - to be found mind-externally - (although later-on he became doubtful about the possibility of achieving it). Objects, numbers, points of space, and many other entities, he said, had ‘independent existence’. He then studied linguistic expressions : for them to be true ‘there must be something they mean’. [This statement most clearly demonstrates the aimed-for inversion of thinking (see TA78) : after we have produced statements, they are ‘objective’ and then they tell us that they (not we) must mean something. That is a disregard of subjective meaning, which is replaced by its observable effects in language-logic]. He wanted to obtain certainty by language relating to ‘ordinary’ (supposedly doubt-free) physical objects like trees or buildings [this is the supposed basis of objectivism]; for this one had to be ‘acquainted’ with them, in order to understand talk about them [as some materialists put it, they are ‘manifest’]. But this led him to dubious propositions like that ‘what one perceives is always his own brain’ [a materialistic attempt to understand the mind-brain relation]; and puzzling questions like whether or not mathematical and logical structures ‘exist’ [instead of, for instance, whether they can be created and found useful]. He studied ‘atomic sentences’ and logical structures like ‘classes’ and developed, with Whitehead, a project (‘Principia Mathematica’) of reducing mathematics to logic. [ Russell’s development is of particular interest in the context of 0-D. His switch from unity of consciousness to MIR-atomism implies an erroneous alternative. One could for instance maintain a (Hegel-type or other) encompassing unity of consciousness, and then understand the atomic details as mental tools inside it, rather than as entities existing in themselves ]
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) thought that the cardinal problem of philosophy was ‘the distinction between what can be said and what can only be shown’. In the ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’ of 1920 he wrote that sentences are ‘pictures of reality’. He claimed that thoughts are ‘sentences with a sense’ and that all thoughts can be stated in sentences. Like Whitehead he thought that to understand a sentence ‘one must know the references of the names that compose it’. The ‘Philosophical Investigations’ (1953) proposed to substitute descriptions for analysis : language games with meaning as determined by use instead of ‘pictures’ of reality. Sentences were instruments; and then the meaning comes before the use. But he found that there is a ‘compulsion’, a ‘disease of thinking’ which consists in always looking for mental states as the sources for our actions. He was against ‘mental decision making’ because ‘one would have to know what deciding is only from one’s own case’, and thus it is unverifiable. [Thus he tried to eliminate subjective experience from consideration.]
But only in 1959, the Oxford philosopher PF Strawson explicitly declared that he was engaged in metaphysics (‘Individuals. An Essay In Descriptive Metaphysics’; available as an e-book). And that apparently triggered the recent series of ‘analytic-metaphysics’ publications, some of which by now exclude not only subjects but also replace objects (things) by ‘dispositions’ (see discussion to TA110). (In the past, metaphysics had been anathema to positivist and analytic philosophers.) The book’s first paragraph reads :
‘ We think of the world as containing particular things which are independent of ourselves; we think of the world’s history as made of particular episodes in which we may or may not have a part; and we think of these particular things and events as included in the topics of our common discourse, as things about which we can talk to each other. These are remarks about the way we think of the world, about our conceptual scheme. A more recognisably philosophical, though no clearer, way of expressing them would be to say that our ontology comprises objective particulars. It may comprise much else besides.’
[ The decisive term here is ‘things which are independent of ourselves’. Strawson’s clear and explicit statement of his belief in objective mind-independent reality is helpful. Ontology, that is, metaphysics, follows directly and inevitably from there, as indeed it always had, but only implicitly, for instance, in naive realism, and in the views described above. - Where I differ is that : the MIR-belief is very common, but a mistake, and leads to contradictions and other conceptual difficulties, such as the pre-‘existence’ of mind-independent pre-structured universals. In order to ‘talk to each other’ we don’t need an MIR-belief; we can talk about things we have structured ourselves (such as ‘I’ or ‘you’ - we do that all the time) and which are not independent of ourselves. Metaphysics is wrong, and although it has been wrong in a very productive way, we can no longer afford to continue with it : because it eliminates us. That is a blind alley, despite Strawson’s qualification that ‘our ontology ... may comprise much else besides’ : because we are not ‘beside’ the mind-independent things, but encompassing and at the center, and no effort to eliminate the subject can change that. The ‘things’ are structures within the encompassing experience. Strawson’s view bypasses the history of phenomenology and of the de-construction of ontology-metaphysics, and it does furthermore not anticipate the return of the subject to its central role in constructivism. (And by the way : subject-inclusion does not mean ‘solipsism’ (which is a routine objection), because the subject-inclusion is only one aspect of the mind-and-world-and-all inclusion.) ]
The described metaphysical (materialist) opinions have had a great influence on 20th century scientific thinking; for example in the behavioural psychology of Watson and Skinner (the latter was much influenced by Russell) : subjective experience was rejected as unscientific. Despite later corrections, this influence persists, and the denial of subjectivity continues in the literature on the mind-brain relation, on ‘analytic metaphysics’ (see discussion of TA110), and on ‘embodiment’.
For instance, Mark Johnson (The Meaning of the Body, 2007, p.58) : ‘ There is no “I”, no single unified executive system that coordinates all of the necessary bodily changes ’ , and ‘ instead of saying that “I” monitor my bodily states, it would be more accurate to say that “my body” (or bodily systems) monitors the ongoing processes within the body, as it interacts with the environment ’ .
Indeed there is no ready-made I, you have to create it. You are left to your own devices, and you have to make sure that that works properly. And you don’t have to replace your mind by your body. That would be a clear example of inversion of thinking - in which you become a mind-less appendage to your physiology, or else to your own mental tools, to your own products such as what you say (language).
As I have asked before : does a poem (yours or someone else’s) ‘exist’ ? if so, where and when ? in your body? in your environment ? before, or after, it has been written down ? electronically recorded ? printed in a book ? a book which is objective enough to put it under the leg of the kitchen table in your environment to prevent it from wobbling ? The evidence for the ‘existence’ of mind, of subjectivity (subject-inclusive experience) is of the same kind. Experience is something you do (a process, in Whitehead’s expression); its structures emerge (or at least should emerge) as needed within it while doing; they are not there without our structuring.
The recent discussions (for instance by Fisher and Moodey) about ‘reification’ (thing-ification) and ‘construction’ in embodiment are not clear to me, and I would appreciate explanation, concerning the metaphysics-ontology aspect : whether or not the ‘thing’-structures are meant to be mind-independently real (see discussion above, especially the part concerning Strawson). Despite this ontology-question-in-principle, neural models can be, and are usually, dealt with in mind-independent objective terms, and in discussing biology this as-if-objectivity often poses no problems for discussion, while in discussing ‘mind’ it always does.
The real alternative is : imagined pre-structured subject-exclusive metaphysics versus active subject-inclusive structuring.
Herbert FJ Müller
e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>