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Monthly Archives: June 2009
by Jerry Coyne.
I thought this was an excellent review article, and it can pretty much stand on its own merits. I am in complete agreement with Coyne on the issue of reconciliation between faith and secular reason. They just aren’t really compatible on a philosophical level, and while many well-intended attempts to show otherwise have surfaced over the years, as Coyne points out, these either distort faith beyond recognition or weaken science with theological “extras” that would make Occam spin in his grave. The only solution is to bite the existential bullet and deal the best we know how with the silent absence of God.
Simon Critchley has posted his third installment of his exposition of Being and Time in the UK Guardian. While his analysis is good, albeit old-news if you are a Heideggerian scholar, I think the most fascinating part of these articles is the comments section. It is interesting how broad the range of opinion on Heidegger is for the layman. Comments range from livid hatred at his “atheistic Naziism”, sympathy for his position but mystification at his strange use of words, to flat out miscontruals and the most hilarious/awful strawmans you can think of. It also seems like a lot of people are simply responding to Critchley’s less than comprehensive analysis. One commenter went so far as to stretch philosophical history so that amazingly, “Hobbes , Locke and Hume rejected Cartesian dualism and did it in a much more sustained , powerful and original way than Heidegger.”
Will Heideggerian thought ever become mainstream in the way Cartesian “soul-talk” is? Seems unlikely to me. Heidegger said the most self-evident facts are farthest from our understanding because they are so phenomenological transparent…but one person said Crichtley’s Heidegger was “common sense”, so I suppose it is possible after all.
I’m curious, how does this work? It just seems so implausible after Darwin. Maybe I am confused on what exactly the argument is. How could we have ever evolved without being in a direct correspondence with the world? It seems strange to me to think that the great tinkerer that is Mother Nature would have left us high and dry when it came to knowledge concerning the world we live in.
I thought this was a pretty fascinating lecture. The main theme is trying to understand why things like religion and schizophrenia have been so evolutionarily successful when their modern full-blown expression is disastrously maladaptive. Similar to the Jaynesian theory I have been supporting on my site, Sapolsky basically argues that there were once great selection pressures on people who had schizotypal personalities provided they heard their voices “at the right time,” within the proper shamanic context. The Jaynesian would take this same principle and greatly expand it by saying “it was almost always the right time to hallucinate because everyone was schizotypal until the development of modern consciousness.”
Also, do yourself a favor and check out Sapolsky’s fascinating 2009 Class Day Lecture entitled “The Uniqueness of Humans.”
I had never heard of “Don Trent Jacobs” until I found this video on google, but I thought it was a really interesting piece and found Jacobs to be articulate and coherent in his mini-lecture. As most readers know, I think the Jaynesian theory has a lot going for it in terms of brute explanatory power, especially in regards to ubiquitous phenomena such as religious fundamentalism, schizophrenia, and shucksters worldwide. I think my favorite part of the video though would have to be the cool archeological pictures, particurally at 1:11 and 1:26.
I will let Jacobs’s political views stand on their own merit, but I encourage you to reflect on what he is saying in historical terms. Nine-tenths of our history was wedded to religious totalitarianism (see Hitchen’s excellent “god is not Great“), so it is no surprise that we have barely pulled away from the psychological trauma that is ideological indoctrination.We have been falling prey to the “hypnotic” suggestions of authority figures for millenia. First it was the gods themselves who led us, helped us, and deceived us. Then it was those who mediated between god and humanity, the seers, oracles, and shamans of past and present. Then it was humanity itself that birthed the bureaucratic class of spiritual middlemen that we now know as “organized religion.”
I highly recommend the critical examination of Julian Jaynes‘s groundbreaking work The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind so that you can think for yourself as to whether this theory explains what he claims to explain, namely why theistic belief has been so thoroughly ingrained into our sociological history. I have yet to see a more parsimonious theory to explain the ubiquity of religious belief. Surely we should give our ancestors some credit and not simply dismiss religious belief as an “irrational” or “superstitious” attempt to “explain the world.” If we take Heidegger or Hegel seriously, we must be open the suggestion that our dynamically coupled self-understanding and basic perception of the world is continuously shifting depending on historical and evolutionary context.
I have always seen Alan Watts as a quintessentially philosophical teacher. His philosophical wisdom and dry humor have always been intermingled to such an extent that I am apt to agree with Wittgenstein when he said “a serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” Watts would surely concur. But this is not to say that Watts engaged in sophomoric philosophy, only getting at the surface level of what “academic philosophers” have been digging at over the ages. Quite the contrary. The genius of Watts is that he manages to dig so deep while simultaneously not taking himself too seriously. While the form of his lecture style is wonderously entertaining, the content of his analysis is richly deep.
When I listen to podcasts of his lectures, or meditate on his exquisitely readable oeuvre, I am struck by the Heideggerian spirit of his philosophy. His emphasis on temporality, concrete facticity, and participation are largely Heideggerian themes. I am not sure the extent to which Watts was aware of this, but that would be an excellent research question. I don’t want to elaborate on this Heideggerian connection too much in this post, as I hope that this will come out naturally as you read his words. The lecture I transcribed is entitled “Sex in the church, part II”. If you can, I highly recommend going over to alanwattspodcast.com and listening to whatever lecture is currently available. All of them are beyond excellent, but this one in particular struck me as relevant to some of the Heideggerian research I have been doing lately. Enjoy!
So therefore hold yourself aloof. As in for example, in the advise of many Hindus in the practice of Yoga, you are advised to look upon all sensory experiences as something “out there,” which you simply witness. You, yourself, identity yourself with the eternal, spiritual, unchanging self, the witness of all that goes on, but who is no more involved in it than say the smoothness or the color of the mirror is effected by the things it reflects. Keep your mind like a mirror. Pure and clean. Free from dust, free from flows, free from stain, and just reflect everything that goes on, but don’t be attached.
You will find this all over the place. But it has always seem to me, that – that attitude of essential detachment from the physical universe…has underlying it a very seriously problem. The problem being: why a physical world at all in that case? If God, is in some way responsible for the existence of a creation, and if this creation is basically a snare, why did he do it?And of course, according to some theologians, the physical universe is looked upon as a mistake – as a fall from the divine state – as if something went wrong in the heavenly domain, and causing spirits, such as we are, to fall from their highest state and to become involved with animal bodies.
And so there is an ancient analogy of man, which runs right through to the present time: that your relationship to your body is that of a rider to a horse. Saint Francis called his body [inaudible]. That you are a irrational soul in charge of an animal body. And therefore, if you belong to the old fashion school, you beat it into submission. As Saint Paul said, “I beat my body into submission.” Or if you are a Freudian, you treat your horse not with a whip, but with lumps of sugar, kindly, but it is still your horse. Even in Freud there is a very, very strong element of Puritanism. Read Philip Rieff’s book on freud, “The Mind of the Moralist.” And how he shows that how Freud, basically, thought that thought sex was degrading. But nevertheless something that is biologically unavoidable, something terribly necessary, which couldn’t just be swept aside, it had to be dealt with.
But there is you see is that heritage, of thinking of ourselves, as divided. The ego as the rational soul of spiritual origin, and the physical body as the animal component. And therefore, all success in life, spiritual success, requires the spiritualization of the animal component. The sublimation of its dirty and strange urges so that it is thoroughly cleaned up. I suppose the ideal sexual relationship of such persons would be held on an operating table, under disinfected sprays.
Now it is of course true, that the physical world, its beauty and so on, is transient. We are all falling apart, in some way or another, especially after you pass the peak of youth. But it has never struck me that that is something to gripe about. That the physical world is transient, seems to me, to be part of its splendor. I can imagine nothing more awful, than say, attaining to the age of 30, and suddenly being frozen, in that age, for always and always. We would all be a kind a kind of animated wax works. And you would discover as a matter of fact, that people who had that physical permenence, would feel like plastic.
And that is, as matter of fact, going to be done by us, by technology, in order to attain perpetual youth. All the parts of us that decay and fold up, are going to be replaced by very skillfully made plastic parts. And so that in the end, we will be made of very, very sophistacted plastic. And we will feel like that. And everyone will be utterly bored of each other. Because, the very fact you see, that the world, is, always, decaying, and always falling away, is the same thing as its vilality. Vitality is change. Life is death. It is always falling apart. And so there are certain supreme moments, you see, at which in the body, we attain superb vitality. And THAT is the time. Make it then. That is the moment.
Just as like when the orchestra is playing, the conductor wants to get a certain group of say, violens, to come in at a certain moment, and he is conduting and then he is like “NOW make it”, and then they all have to go “pfoosh!” , right now you see! Of course! That is the whole art of life. To do it at the right time. To do it in time, like you dance or play. In time. So in the same way, when it comes to love, sexuality, or equally so, in all the pleasures of gastronomy, timing is of the essence. And then it has happened and you’ve had it. But that is not something that one should look upon with regret. It is only something regrettable if you didn’t know how to take it when it was timely.
And this is really the essence of what I want to talk to you about. Because, you see, to be detached from the world, in the sense Buddhists, Taoists, and Hindus will often talk about detachment, does not mean to be non participative. You can have a sexual life, very rich and very full, and yet all the time be detached. By that I dont mean that you just go through it mechanically and have your thoughts elsewhere. I mean a complete participation but still detached. And the difference of the two attitudes is this. On the one hand, there is a way of being so anxious about physical pleasure, so afraid that you won’t make it, that you grab it too hard. That you just have to have that thing! And if you do that, you destroy it completely. And therefore after ever attempt to get it, you feel disappointed, you feel empty, you feel something was lost. And therefore you want it again. And you have to keep repeating,repeating, repeating – because you never really got there and it is this that is the hang up. This is what is meant by attachment to the world, in an evil sense.
But on the other hand, Pleasure in its fullness, cannot be experienced when one is grasping it. I knew a little girl to whom someone gave a bunny rabbit. She was so delighted by the bunny rabbit, and so afraid of losing it, that taking it home in the car, she squeezed it to death with love. And lots of parents do that to their children. And lots of spouses do it to each other. They hold on too hard, and so take the life out of this transient, beautifully fragile thing that life is.
To have it, to have life, and to have its pleasure, you must at the same time let go of it. And then, you can feel perfectly free to have that pleasure in the most gutsy, earthy, frolicking, liplicking way. Ones whole being taken over by a kind of undulating, convulsive ripple, that is like the very pulse of life itself. This can only happen if you let go. If you are willing to be abandoned. It is funny that word, abandoned. We speak of people who are dissolute as abandoned, but we can also use abandon as the characteristic of a saint. A great spiritual book by a Jesuit father is called “Abandonment To the Divine Providence. “There are people like that, who just aren’t hung up. They are the poor in spirit. That is to say, they are spiritually poor in the sense of they don’t cling on to any property, don’t carry any burdens around; they are free. Well, just that sort of spiritual poverty, that let-go-ness, is quite essential for the enjoyment of any kind of pleasure at all, and particularly sexual pleasure…
…continued from Dasein for Dummies part I
With the possibility of phenomenological-ontology in place, we are getting ready to better understand the general motifs of Being and Time and the underlying reason for Heidegger’s choice of “Dasein” as the central figure of his magnum opus. As we have seen, Heidegger quickly establishes in Being and Time that his project is phenomenological-ontology: the study of phenomena; that which shows itself. We must then further clarify how this “showing” unfolds; what does it mean for a world to show itself as something? First, it becomes clear as you read the text that for Heidegger it is important that this presentation of the world has to be presented to an observer for it to be considered a “showing.” Second, the totality of entities which shows itself must exist independently of our awareness or else being would be a construction, and not a presentation. A rock does not take the world to be one way or another, for a rock is only an entity amongst other entities, which “are, quite independently of the experience by which they are disclosed, the acquaintance in which they are discovered, and the grasping in which their nature is ascertained” (BT 228).
I bring up this issue of metaphysical realism in order to answer the charge that Heidegger was only concerned with the human-world relationship and had nothing pertinent to say about the real ontological question of “being qua being” – which would account for how the world is, independent of human access. In my view, this reading of Heidegger is disingenuous given that it fails to account for how he dealt with realism through his conception of “presence.” Through the development of this concept, Heidegger defends a crude form of ontic realism, wherein the occurrent (vorhanden) structure of world is independent of human disclosure. For Heideggen then, there is, in essence, some “fixed totality of mind-independent objects”. In Basic Problems of Phenomenology, he states:
This entity[the world] is intraworldly. But innerworldliness nonetheless does not belong to its being, rather in dealing with this entity, nature in the widest sense, we understand that this entity is as something occurrent, as an entity that we run up against, to which we are given over, that for its own part always already is. It is, without our uncovering it, i.e. without our encountering it in our world. Innerworldiness devolves upon this entity only when it is uncovered as an entity.
On my reading then, “being qua being” – the classic question of ontology – is already pre-reflectively understood by humans insofar as we are always running up against an ontically real world. The world is presented to us as being “there,” independent of our disclosure of it.
Entities are grasped in their being as “presence”; this means that they are understood with regard to a definite mode of time – the “Present”. (BT 47)
Those entities which show themselves in this and for it, and which are understood as entities in the most authentic sense, thus get interpreted with regard to the Present; that is, they are conceived as presence (ousia). (BT 48)
Hopefully, we can now begin to understand how Heidegger’s minimalistic defense of ontic realism helps answer the question of the meaning of being. By determining the meaning of “that which defines entities as entities, that on the basis of which entities are in each case already understood” (BT 25-26), “being qua being” comes into focus circuitously. Our understanding of the mode of being for the “mind-independent” totality of entities is presence. The German is “Anwesenheit,” which connotes the presence of someone at some place on such and such occasion. The “showing itself” of phenomenology now becomes more intelligible. While philosophers of antiquity had been focused on merely establishing the ontic configuration of that which is present, Heidegger sought to elucidate the neglected human-ontological understanding of this being – of the worlds intelligibility as being occurrent. Phenomenological-ontology is then focused on the being of entities, not on the occurrent structure itself, with being strictly understood as the disclosure-relationship between entities who understand that things are and what they are, and the world itself. In this sense, Being and Time is decidedly a human-centered enterprise that nevertheless helps shed light on the metaphysical questions of mind-independent realism.
While this might seem horribly anthropocentric, Heidegger’s reasons for keeping the question of being within an analytic of Dasein have nothing to do with denying intelligence or cognition to non-human animals or denying that they too have a unique “perspective” on the world. Nor does it have to do with denying crude ontic realism in the way his continental forebearers had. Heidegger’s basic point is that although the ontic configuration of the environment is the same for all biological organisms, by virtue of the type of creature we are, only the human-world interaction can actually be a disclosure of entities as entities, for such a phenomenon requires the powers of complex language, replete with syntactical and semantic depth. This is a subtle but crucial point. Only with creatures for whom the world is linguistically organized can the world show up as this or that entity – “something which is.” Heidegger was very impressed by the fact that humans understand what it means for something to be. “Today is windy.” “The cat is on the mat.” “I am a good person.” It is only in virtue of our linguistic constitution that the world shows up as something which “is.” By focusing on this particular sense of being – the determination of entities as entities, as being intelligible in terms of that it is, and what it is, Heidegger can avoid the complete anthropocentric idealism that is often leveled against him. Indeed, as Taylor Carman puts it:
To say that entities exist independently of us is not to assert the being or existence of anything like being or existence, as if too were a kind of entity, that is, something that is alongside or in addition to the entities themselves. It is consistent, then, to say that although being consists solely in our understanding of being, occurrent entities are independently of us and our understanding. (Carman, 2003, pp. 202-203)
Let me start by saying that I have been an avid reader of Peter Hankins’ excellent blog Conscious Entities for many years, and I have a lot of respect for his opinions. So much so that I remember being dissuaded from reading Julian Jaynes book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind because in Hankins review, he dismissed it as outright implausible. Recently, I did myself a favor and gave Jaynes enough credit to critically examine the book on its own merit. I came away extremely captivated by what Jaynes was saying. His theory of consciousness placed religion and mental illness, the two elephants in the room for philosophy of mind, into one seamless explanatory framework. The human psychological framework was once split into an authoritative god-mind, capable of responding to novel or stressful situations, which then subsequently relayed the results of this unconscious processing through the condensed information modality of speech to the human-mind, which automatically obeyed. All volition was initially habit and conditioning, evolving in complexity as the authoritative god-mind allowed for more complicated behavioral responses to novel stimuli.
For Jaynes, it is only through the development of language that we gained the capacity to experience the frightently common phenomenon of command hallucinations – auditory hallications in the form of a dismebodied voice that makes forceful behavioral commands, usually of an admonitory context. In religious contexts, this is often experienced as the voice of God or a powerul authority figure of divine origin. Think of Abraham, Socrates, Muhammed, Joan of Arc, Christian mystics, and a large percentage of classically schizophrenic people throughout the ages. Such experiences are widely reported throughout history. Furthermore, Modern neuroscientific imaging provides rough empirical support for Jaynes’s strong version of the hypothesis that auditory hallucinates originate in the right temporal cortex and end up in the left temporal cortex.
This brings me to another point of contention with Hankins review and something I have seen elsewhere in reviews of Jaynes’s book. Hankins talks has if Jaynes’s entire bicameral theory rests on the precise dating of the bicameral breakdown in the literate periods of human history. Despite Hankins praising Jaynes’s book for his clear, rational style, it seems that he has not read the whole book, for Jaynes states repeatedly that the whole theory does not rest on his original suggestion for the date of the origin and emergence of modern consciousness.
The dating is but one of four hypothesis proposed by Jaynes, each standing independent of the others, but strongly reenforced by their interlocking explanatory parsimony.
1. Consciousness — as he carefully defines it — is a learned process based on metaphorical language
2. That preceding the development of consciousness there was a different mentality based on verbal hallucinations called the bicameral (‘two-chambered’) mind.
3. Dating the development of consciousness to around the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. in Greece and Mesopotamia. The transition occurred at different times in other parts of the world.
4. That the bicameral mind is based on a double-brain neurological model
As you can see, the precise dating of the development of consciousness is not the linchpin of his argument. The Clarksian tradition of embodied/embebedded linguistic scaffolding has clearly established the plausibility of (1). The anthropological and archeological evidence gathered by Jaynes and his supporters has an overwhelming mountain of evidence supporting hypothesis (2); that our ancestors had a different psychological makeup that modern humans is largely evident if you withhold the temptation to project our own psychology onto them. The rampant prevelance of idolatry in almost all ancient civilizations must be taken seriously and a narrow phenomenology of “superstitious beliefs and rituals” is explanatorily sterile. Much anthropological evidence supports the claim that our ancestors literally communicated with the spirit world through auditory hallucinations. Otherwise, we have no convincing explanation for the widespread practice of buyring food and material possessions with the dead, as if the dead chieftans were still capable of issuing forceful commands.
Were we all once so stupid? Or did we have a radically different psychological framework? Would it not be nice to explain in one fell swoop the ease for which hypnosis, religion, and mental illness breakdown the functionality of something supposedly so well entrenched into our neurobiology and evolutionary history?Does not the very origin and decline of religion map onto the bicameral theory perfectly? We once experienced God, but ate from the tree of knowledge, painfully developed self-consciousness, and have since struggled to be close with the voice of God once again. We cry out with prayers and superstitious ritual, worship and follow readily those who seem still possessed with God’s admonitory wisdom, and blindly go so far as to murder our own children in the face of such powerful admonitory hallucinations (and to this very day!).Nine tenths of human history has been enveloped in religiosity, and yet Enlightenment thinkers are content to simply rationalize that fact into a primitive irrationality.
Hopefully, with the plausibility of (1) and (2) gratiously established, and the ready conceit that hypotheis (3) might need some revision, what of (4)? I already linked to the Julian Jaynes society, which has conveniently provided some discussion of myths and facts concerning Jaynes theory, as well as a nice summary of evidence with alternative hypotheses and numerous academic references.
Coming back to Hankins then, is this all really so ” impossible to believe”? Where is the competing theory for all these phenomena? Where is the implausibility? Where are the gaping flaws in logic?So why hasn’t the bicameral theory caught on you might ask? Well,
The weight of original thought in it is so great that it makes me uneasy for the author’s well-being: the human mind is not built to support such burdens. I would not be Julian Jaynes if they paid me a thousand dollars an hour.
The UK Guardian just started an eight-part series on Being and Time: “Why Heidegger matters.” I was expecting a very shallow reading since it was coming from a newspaper blog, but I came away very impressed; cheers to you Simon Critchley. While the brief explanation of the “basic idea” was a little too brief (and I don’t like the simple being = time either; that is either too simple, too misleading or simply wrong), I was impressed by how much he crammed into such a short article. With seven more parts in the series, I am sure he will give a little more detail about the argumenative structure of the book. I will be particually interested in how he re-constructs Heidegger’s analytic in the introduction and division 1.
Oh, and check out the comments section. I never knew “the Folk” had such strong opinions on Heidegger! Some of the comments are hilarious, like this well written gem:
how did he get there?…CAREERIST OPPORTUNISM!
no wonder he legitimated the whole shit with nihilistic void/emptiness blah!
“Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was the most important and influential philosopher in the continental tradition in the 20th century. “
BULLSHIT!”….each his own, for sure not the most impressive to me.
watch them live their philosophys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
or not!… remains a betraying opportunistic twit ,with typical post war legitimation noises.what fascinates YOU ….? the sound good noise of avoidance through look cool attitude?….he and his philosophy are missing one essential human aspect…EMPATHY & HEART
Damn you Heidegger! Where is your HEART?