Monday, February 22, 2016

Maxime Absurde Firmam Petram

When I was studying epistemology back at UT, it alarmed me at first just how metaphysical it was. The problem with metaphysics as it is presented to the world is that it is given the impression of being the most abstract or arcanely compelling part of philosophy. But in fact, what metaphysics really is is the part of philosophy where the formal framework discovered everywhere else in philosophy is all put into one coherent collection in logical form. But that is not where the philosophical content is about which that metaphysical roster of formulae has been accumulated.

In fact, the height of "worldly wisdom" is more truly epistemology, because it is the science of the mind which thinks beyond itself, and that is the subject of substance.  Metaphysics is created by the mind, and is a subject of knowledge which is a condensation and formal refinement of all the ideas and understanding that is within and available to be treated by or related to the ideas of the mind that performs "philosophy" in all the aspects of being human, but to an ideal extreme of not being fundamentally limited by the circumstantial forms of being human that are not essentially such.

So really epistemology, to the young and mentally active mind who is genuinely philosophical, will suddenly blaze forth as the fundamental engine of all philosophical activity, at least on the formal level.  But this revelation is only the beginning of an inversion of distorted first impressions, for some less counter-intuitive than for others, but in the end found to be the only proper way to see the matter.

Fundamentally it is values which designate the phenomena of the world, and which therefore order the structure and function of all beings.  But since in a naive universe we most likely do posit fundamental categories of being and formal classes of beings, we have a systemic approach to ontology, and in such a universe it is still a category of philosophic approach to creatively and meaningfully deconstruct such ontologies along lines where they are dysfunctional to the processes of knowledge and action in any other area, it must be to at least that extent the case that values and intellectual processes innate to the mind which later conducts metaphysics (here and there), therefore are more fundamental and precede that metaphysics and infuse it with the data and format which will become the compressed, logical representation of all that was put into it.

Coming to realize that at any rate, different ontologies can be compared and contrasted systematically, begs the question of just how is it that metaphysics, and in some definite ratio in this respect also the rest of philosophy, could be bogged down in so-called "perennial problems". But perhaps every philosopher has been tempted to think this way about some element or domain of their experience of life, existence, and everything. The most monumental of them happened to be in the strict habit of thinking that way, even after studying the work which had been done before them, paying proper respect to the main lights on their own path to realization. No mere "simpleton" could bear that mantle willingly, whether others sponsor him or not.

I did with great pleasure and earnestness, and I still do. One of the areas of metaphysics, especially in the ontology, which I found fascinating was the aspect of metaphysics which enables that "infamous hairsplitting", which unfortunately can become dovetailed with another aspect of metaphysics, called "haresplitting", but that one will clarified only after due preparation.  Let's just say for now that how you split hairs, matters, and not all hairsplitting is dispensable.

Specifically here, in the regard of whether or not there is matter or substance independent of minds as such, it became apparent to wise thinkers that there is no need to start by assuming more than one mind, and when that assumption is dropped, no significant features of the mind/matter distinction seem to be elaborated or made more problematic.  Yet, everything seems to have lost its moorings and slips into solipsism or the nearest thing to it, barely allowed any distinction at all, yet incapable of denying "alterity".  That there should be "not just one being", but bringing the universe all into the gaze of one mind, "no matter what", and ruling out other minds "no matter what", we are left with now two kinds of things about which we seem to have very little, in any, direct evidence. That is "matter" and "other minds".  Yet we presumably do have "alterity".  There is the "sense of" other minds, and there is the "sense of" matter, and these are all part of a sense of experience which is formally structured to give us, at minimum, a conditioned "illusion" of "other minds" and of "matter", and this itself will always demand explanation, whether or not "any such thing" actually exists "beyond our ideation".

But the reverse becomes true by a proportionate shift in our thinking. If I begin with "solipsism", I must admit that I have begun with a very interesting form of it, where the predominant code of experience in the human social realm, and in many realms of constructive, elaborate thought which human discourse seems to take for granted, MATTER EXISTS and OTHER MINDS EXIST. These seem so fundamental as to be an unconscious religion.  Even if their "fundamental ideas" are actually correct, they seem to just force their way into the discussion before it begins, and it just magically revolves around them, but no mechanism seems evident for why there could have ever been any doubt, therefore why the need for certainty?

In other words, if "that's just how it is", that matter exists and other minds exist, and it also just so happens that minds know this innately, then why can there be such a natural understanding that these intuitions are not evidenced directly? Surely the foundation of their truth in existence, and their truth in the intuition of the mind, is not a mere "parallelism"!  That is a fundamental issue in the so-called "mind-body" problem.

Of course it is hard to solve that from the "no minds exist" strange-verses, leaving us in a universe where there is only matter.  Add at least one mind, and things get interesting.  Not the least of reasons being that only that mind makes it interesting, both in giving birth to "interest (to a mind) itself".  Because it is now the only mind, and therefore now everything that exists has a potential to hold a mental relation called "interest" which would have otherwise been impossible.  Likewise "matter" becomes a notion to that mind, as that "subject matter of experience" about which the mind is interested.  It seems that the entire issue revolves ontologically around the mind, not the reverse, but only after minds actually exist. Before minds exist, there is no discussion of the question at all, nor is it possible in actuality. Only the possibility of mind is necessary to make discussion of matter possible in a world of primordial matter with not yet a mind within it actually. But as to the existence of matter per se, it is never the reverse, so that in a world of pure mind, we can easily conceive the notion of "matter" in some form, notwithstanding the particular notion of "matter" that is meant by physicists as "hyle".

Mind, and all that mind does, is more fundamental than "being" and "all that being is".  That is conceptually visible in the skeletal discussion on the matter I've presented here so far.  But it is just the beginning. Going further, we find that there are techniques of analysis which admit of "physical matter" as a subset of "mental processes", and which then reveal how the measure of mental processes are cut along fault lines found only in his moral, or very immoral spirit.

But this would be true no matter what occurs "outside the mind" in certain specific ways, and so would be true no matter the question of "other minds" and of "matter". I will say that certain qualia of the mind, which are rarefied reflections in metaphysics, which are elaborations and formalizations of what takes place fundamentally in epistemology, while those processes of epistemology are grounded in the phenomena which are essentially the subject of axiology, and in essence this is most fundamentally addressed by the Spirit.  That is a conscious, conscientious sentience, in whatever "form of being". In man the best and highest features of mind and personality are found, but also the worst, and just as he goes far higher than a chimp, he goes also far, far lower.

Rather than go further into those beautiful matters, which dare the mind down paths some of which may not allow his safe passage back to his point of origin, I'll summarize it by saying there are "qualities" which are manifest only under the conditions of man which include the rather self-reflective matters broached in all of life and especially in philosophy, and which it is our power, and our duty, to resolve properly.  Think about it in a minimalist way, by analogy. You are the current generation.  The future is your progeny.  You have to decide whether to give that future a meaningful existence, or to destroy it, or even to deform it and mutilate it in an extended display of absolute evil (what is taking place in the world today, I have argued elsewhere). How did anyone splitting all the wrong hairs of philosophy fail to see this as more important than anything else?  In all possible worlds, no matter what "lies beyond", whether in space, time, cause, or dimension of any kind, what you do is your legacy, and what you leave behind you is your statement about all of eternity as far as you are concerned.  

For those who are doing evil in the world, being too stupid or ignorant or cowardly to do otherwise is not a sufficient excuse. For those doing RIGHT, we can understand their motivation.

We find that what really matters are qualities, expressed and revealed through the minds of men, and their world is the sum and promulgation and abundance of that luxurious, metaphysically epic opportunity.  We can see how, even in a universe of one mind, a world can be manifest which seems to be all of a bunch of notions about which all the direct evidence is qualified internally, no matter the external qualifications which are appended. We can still yet find an order in all these phenomena which reconstruct meaningfully all these phenomena so that the notions of matter and other minds are not "alien" to us.  In fact we can similarly understand sense and experience modalities as qualitatively internal even if we thought their entire formal structure is strictly supervenient for their occurrence upon the existence of bodies and their tissues.  In other words, in all cases, mind precedes matter both ontologically and in every coherent understanding of the world, even where mind is "supervenient" upon matter. It is not reducible to matter.  Matter is meaningfully reducible to mind, both ontologically and conceptually, as being a modality of mind (its qualia and their processes) and as being a modality of mentality (the processes of mind which produce and manifest beyond initial states and seem to possess a symbolic reality "in themselves" as being, at their extreme, "the other").

I have forced solipsism to cater to my argument in a way which strengthens it from objections to its coherence, at least "formally", and in just the same way that "sign" is coherently denuded of all the content held in what it signifies.  And there has manifested the effulgence of "adventitiousness" that Descartes rightly noted, literally "of its own accord".  It comes out of the realization of intentionality, which happens here in the sense that the intentionality of the mind, to be coherent, must be immune to any "false positives" as well as any "false negatives".  No event, severed from or even severable from that intentionality of mind can be mistaken for any which is is not severed from, nor severable from it.  If it is truly "up to me", it cannot be mistaken for being otherwise.  Nor, if it isn't, could it be.  Likewise, if it is contingent in any "interesting" way, it must be about "matters" which are within the mind's experience, but are not "up to" its intent, and they must not be trivial, such as "all of my intentions and all phenomena have no correlation", which is an absolute and universal correlation of the negative sort that becomes, ironically, instantiated as a negation of intent for all its instances, except perhaps for the intent to come to this bleak realization that nothing ever happens as intended. Yet the intention to discover this was the opposite that was intended. That was to discover something that might have gone the way I intended, or according to an intention "other than" my own.

I may simply assert that interesting combinations of intention-correlations with phenomena of the mind's experiential world are at some proportion such as 50/50, just to be poetic. It's a give and take universe of intention.  Half of what happens is according to or in some proportion consistently contrary/aligned to my intentions. But the other half bears no intelligible correlation. Even without "other visages" of mind, there would be a sense of "otherness in negation" to a principle feature of my own deepest subjectivity, my choices toward that to which I am inclined and my dissatisfaction with that toward which I am not inclined, which two features produce all the texture of my intentionality. And this is a very central feature of my subjectivity "as such" in that it may or may not correlate with any other aspect of my experience, whether as an "action" of any direct kind (making "my hand" touch "my nose") or of an indirect sort, such as predicting events I expect to occur, or being able or not to remember some event in my past experience.

That realm is negated by a substantial portion of experience, and that inner realm is within the reach of my will (including will to anticipate accurately), and all else is outside that realm.  There may be, as I have suggested, a buffering/scaling zone of contingency, so that sometimes a given correlation is strong, other times weak, and there is already a "solipsistically interesting" metaphysical question, as to why this division, and to what degree, with what meaning, for what purpose (if any) and to what end, and of course with what (if any) consistency over time. It could be considered a metaphysical example of a sort of decision problem as might be found in computing theory. But perhaps this could be discerned after being finally noticed, after some unknown period of time (perhaps an eternity past), and then decided after some discrete amount of time, to be followed by a future where it never need be considered formally in this way ever again, perhaps for an eternity future.

Even with that certainty posited, and its attendant questions put aside (at least temporarily for us), we still have interesting questions that may never be resolved.  For example, is it possible that another "intentionality" empowers the phenomena that are uncorrelated with my own intent?  Is it even possible that some domains are open to contest between my intention and this "possible other" intention?  If not, what is the cause?  I know directly the cause of my own intentionally controlled phenomena of experience, and that cause is my own volition. But what of that beyond and sometimes going consistently against (or perhaps with) my intention?  Is that "intentional" also? Or is there another kind of cause?  What is most knowable is that which is already known in such pure cases, an intuition similarly found on the path which Descartes already treads at his own adroit pace, and what I've suggested is either in line with or congenial to what he has put forth in his Meditations on First Philosophy.  But I think he left out much when it came to the axiological implications (and ramifications) in relation to the parts of his work which are more clearly pronounced.  I think his reasons for that were political, whether he was conscious of it or not.

What is revealed beyond issues of pure intentionality, is the question of why a mind intends with any preference.  That is irreducible in the form of prima facie values which are integral to the structure of experience in some fundamental way, and which, at least according to some solipsistic universes which are naively "like our universe", in the form of definitive and distinct experiences of "qualities" which are called, in themselves, "qualia".  Of those pertaining to value, the most significant are those which are germane to the discussion of values on the utmost human level, and that would relate to questions of how experiences are processed pertaining to categories referred to as "Right" and "wrong", or "Good" and "evil".  So even a solipsistic being could conceivably wonder about the nature of its preferences, even in the specious world where its only intent was to blunder its way toward the realization that total causal confinement as a mere effect were its only strict correlation to all phenomena except its own (in seeming at least) path to this realization.  But that strange world's self-contradiction left aside for a moment, even there we do not destroy the interesting question of whether that realization was preferable, even if it were inevitable.  

Perhaps as an example and for a bit of fun, it might seem that an outcome is inevitable, but there is still a preference.  It may be impossible to avoid a situation where a large celestial body comes slamming into earth (a specific experiential conception of the possible, or a possible conception of experience, or a conception of the possibility of experience), and that may or may not be, in any given world, something any mind has ever foreseen or ever could foresee (what if all "minds" were too crude for that as even a remote possible conception).  Yet it is perhaps difficult to see how, if things going on til that point were preferred to total destruction, that a being wouldn't, if it were able, to prefer whatever is contrary to the inevitable collision and which still enables some semblance of its preferences sufficiently intact.

What will be important in any event, for this example, is that the qualia which underwrite our discussion of preferences will not be reducible to any explanation which precludes the direct insight into those qualia as fundamentals of experience in the way that they are the forms of experience. And when that comes to fundamental values which cannot have any meaningful transformations which precede absolute opposition (Good, or evil; Like it, or not...), then there is no way to "bootstrap" such notions into existence that makes any sense in a way more fundamental than it makes sense as it is already.  This isn't to say that meaningful correlations of expectations with results which include such fundamental values cannot have contingencies about them, and for all we know that can be found in many permutations even with only one agency in existence, with or without imagining "other agencies". 

What is no less immediate and clear to the mind, alike with its own agency, is the qualities of its own experience.  It wasn't necessary to reduce to a "user friendly" solipsistic universe to make these points, but it was interesting to see that a solipsistic universe could resemble our own "putatively non-solipsistic" universe, and retain certain interesting non-trivial features that bring us to consider three interesting questions:

1) would any of this change if and only if other minds exist? (yes)
2) is there anything about "other minds" which precludes solipsism, even in our "generous" solipsistic universe, making it a "philosophical straw man" of sorts?  (yes)
3) are those answers definitively relevant to a discussion of what we know and what we value, and hence what sort of world it is and what we ought to be doing in it? (ditto).

In the article to follow I'll articulate the ways these answers yield a significance inversely proportional to their their brevity here.

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