TA112 (Müller)



Response 4 (to C5, Harwood Fisher;   and C3, Michael Schwartz)




by Herbert FJ Müller

3 March 2009, posted 7 March 2009




[HF C5 <2>] Pragmatically structured or not, they are structured.  The term 'pragmatic' just 'kicks the can down the road.' 



But structured by whom ?   The ‘pragmatic’ is an original aspect of the results of subject-inclusive structuring;   non-pragmatic (i.e., absolute) properties can only be had in subject-exclusive ontology-views (the neo-metaphysicists call them  ‘dispositions’, which they claim are fundamental;  see discussion to TA110).   In 0-D, the question of  ‘regress to pragmatics’ <3> does therefore not come up.     ‘Endless regress’ <2> too is a question only in non-functional metaphysical questions;  it means an erroneous search for ontological ‘causes’.   (Within objective physical systems such questions can to some extent be valid (i.e., functional);   for instance massive black holes hold galaxies together and may be said to be the ‘cause’ of the configuration of the galaxies;  but all of this is structured within human experience.)



Explanations of subjectivity  involving neural mechanisms are tricky,  not so much because we have to find engrams,  but because we tend to mis-interpret neural systems as ontic mind-independent realities (MIR).   As HF puts it <4> :  ‘the problem of originating a thought -- or a choice -- cannot simplistically be tied to a blind evolutionary type process of adaptation’.   And <2> :  ‘the regress to neural and sub-neural structures and/or to sensory-motor patterns of action and reaction (1) neither connects fully with the conscious apprehension and/or processing of 'meaning' (2) nor provides a coherent idea of 'agency.'   I agree; this is at the root of the mind-brain problem.



In MIR-terms :  (from TA112 [4])  {   The  Biological  Basis  Of  Thinking.  The subject’s activity  may be difficult to see  in the more elementary structures, like qualia and gestalt-formations, because they  arise biologically, automatically, and are thus not deliberately influenced or designed  by the subject, who starts thinking from the later deliberate stage, and perceives the early one mistakenly  as ‘given’  in a pre-structured (ready-made) state.     Spontaneous gestalt-generation  is indeed a main reason  for the  prevalent  ontological leap of faith to a mind-independent world in the MIR-views.    But contrary to this belief,  pain, colour, smell, gestalt-formation, touch sensation  are produced by the organisms’ activity, and would not occur without it.


And more generally, all biological structures, starting with self-replicating molecules, even before reaching the level of the DNA mechanism,  affirm themselves; they sort of assert  ‘that is how I am and what I do’.    To what extent they will further replicate depends on their success (natural selection, Darwin).   The long term overall results of spontaneous-mutation-plus-natural-selection may be  misinterpreted   as-if acquired individual characteristics were  inherited   -   or also, by the way, as-if they had been purposefully designed by an intelligent agent,  such as  God or Nature.  These views are extensions  from the anthropocentric-design view, which is our only available start-point for thinking.


One can understand   deliberate intelligent design   as a continuation of biological development.   That might respond  to a question which Byers poses in his book on mathematics (p.321) :   whether it is reasonable to say that natural processes are intelligent.   Over the long term, they behave as-if they were intelligent. ’  }



The objective relationships in this quote are, as mentioned, complicated by the fact that   no one can start thinking from anywhere except from his own subject-inclusive (‘top-down’ as you call it <4>) anthropo-morphic  ‘intelligent’  experience   -   assertions to the contrary notwithstanding.   All objective understanding and explaining happens within primary subject-inclusive understanding.   And also, the evolutionary explanations have been around only since Darwin, and most other objective explanations are also historically fairly recent, and are even for that reason alone secondary to subject-inclusive experience, although they are often valid in the (as-if-) MIR view. 



The scientific method of objectivity wants to minimize subjective bias, not to eliminate the subject(s).  If we forget that,  we may be in trouble :


[HF] <4> :  ‘In a view, which is limited to a 'blind' process, constructivism is given short shrift, since if conscious choice is an outcome; that outcome, by definition, is a 'new beginning.'


[HFJM]  Precisely;  the result of the short shrift is what Thomas Nagel called ‘the view from nowhere’;  or more to the point, a  ‘view without viewers’.    We, the subjects, are eliminated in such an exclusively-objective view, which as just mentioned is NOT required for scientific study.   And :  as you point out, it is impossible to conclusively derive or explain the primary (encompassing experience with its meaning and agency)  starting from the secondary  (circumscribed objective findings)  even though one can sometimes approximate them   in an as-if manner,   as sketched above.


We will therefore have to understand the objective understandings as  structures  within subject-inclusive experience.   It is  ‘by definition a new beginning’  only if one posits (erroneously) that subject-exclusivity is fundamental.   What objectively may appear to be a  ‘new beginning’  is really the original beginning.  



Constructivism does the opposite :  all mental structures emerge within the (human or also to some extent animal) experience, which is encompassing, as Jaspers has emphasized;  the encompassment is a starting characteristic and cannot be derived from elsewhere.    In difference to the subject-elimination in exclusive objectivity,  the structures are not eliminated in the 0-D structuring view, but they are no longer understood as primary and mind-independent (MIR), but as our (pragmatic) tools.   This would apply also to what you call <5> ‘organically morphological’, which I guess means naturalistic onta.  


Michael Schwartz (in C3) raises the point that one always has the resources of the world and of other people available for the task of structuring one’s self.   Quite true, but even with this help one is ‘left to one’s own devices’;  autistic persons have problems utilizing the social resources, for instance.   I would also tend to disagree with MS’ opinion that ‘all structures are abstractions’;   for instance the ones which are discussed in this note,  including the self,  are mostly quite concrete working tools everybody needs for thinking and living.



[HF]<4>  ‘Agency' implies that the determinative process loops from the top-down.  It  'gets going'  from whence we can be conscious of it. 


[HFJM]   ‘Agency’ means that we (subjects) create and use the structures  with some degree of (conscious) deliberation.     Nevertheless, the question arises how we understand them :  are they our creations and tools (for our operations)  or  do we assume that they are mind-independently created and structured (either by themselves, or by some imaginary outside agency,  both of which mean metaphysics).   Metaphysics implies that we deny our agency, at least in part. 



Re <5> I agree that ‘bounds’ are aspects of forms, and that <6> natural forms have evolved, but should not be taken to explain the forms of thinking :  the latter are primary.  <7>  ‘Awareness of forms’ sure, but the point is that they are not ‘given’  in a  ready-made state,   we have to do all the structuring within the range of the possible (what is possible is shown by feedback during use), with and without gestalt-formations.    Even pain is not there if we don’t participate, it is abolished by anaesthesia, and smell by a cold.    The basic situation is that :  all takes place within encompassing experience, there is no other possibility.    Perhaps you want to say that consciousness cannot be explained in objective terms :  indeed it cannot, and that causes the problem of the mind-brain puzzle.  One has to acknowledge encompassing experience as the basis. 



Re <10>  From what you say, it seems that by  ‘reification’  you mean that one uses nouns instead of verbs or adjectives  -  but that is (pace Jacques Derrida) a purely grammatical difference.   The question  which matters  is whether one sees the concepts as human tools  or   -   perhaps largely by default   -   humans as the mind-less tools  of mind-independent structures.  The mind (experience) is something we do, not a thing, and it cannot become a thing,   because that could make it a structured object, that is to say, as-if-mind-independent.   If you find the term ‘mind’ difficult to use,  maybe ‘experience’ or ‘awareness’ are more acceptable (though, mind you, they are also nouns).    ‘Organisms’ and ‘systems’ are useful concepts for research, as you say.    I would think that if we are mindful that all concepts are our tools (and not vice versa) there are no grave dangers.


You might be interested in the book by Byers, which I discuss in the appendix to TA112.   He shows that questions of this type also arise in the center of mathematics,  which I found surprising. 






Byers, W. (2007) How Mathematicians think.  Using Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox to Create Mathematics.  Princeton University Press :  Princeton and Oxford.


Jaspers, K. (1947 / 1991) Von der Wahrheit.  Piper: München.


Nagel, T. (1986) The View from Nowhere. Oxford University Press: Oxford.




Herbert FJ Müller

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