01-05-08

As I lay dying

"I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind - and that of the minds of the ones who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town." William Faulkner, The best of Faulkner, The Reprint Society of London (1955), p. 23.


I'll let you in on a little secret: I believe in an after-life. Weird, ain't it? It takes a lot of imagination to picture an agnostic believer in the after-life. Luckily, I'm here to help you out a bit, & William is here to help me out a bit.
It isn't quite true that I believe in an after-life. First, I'm not big on believing in anything. Second, & here's the crux, I don't think there is evidence to support the common idea that the mind goes when the bodily functions give way. The reasons for holding this idea are very good reasons indeed. It is better to see the mind as a function of the brain than to see it as a function of God - knows what. Not so much because it is closer to the truth - although it most certainly is - but because any explanation based on what we cannot know does not do any explaining but inevitably leads to coercion from a happy few.
Still, having good reasons to hold something true does not make it true - I do have very good reasons for holding that the left will find itself again but none of these reasons will make it so. We're born quite mindlessly - a few even live their entire life completely mindlessly so the least one can say is that having a brain isn't necessarily a sign of having a mind (this point the educated will see as behavioristic in nature, as always the educated are right but this is not the place where I will attempt to defend the obvious). If having a brain isn't quite sufficient for having a mind (the educated may here find comfort in the fact an ape has a brain as well) something else has to enter into the mind equation - if so, we'd do well to postpone our judgment on whether having a brain is at all necessary until such time as we have gathered a little bit more info on the something else.
People have held for a long time - some unfortunate ones still do - that there has to be some outside authority for them to feel well. But only the mindlessly devout have lacked the imagination to see that, at the very least, this outside authority did not suffice. As we all know now: what was held to be necessary was purely a coincidental form of the mental need to be sheltered as member of a group of people. So too it could go with the brain and the mind. No doubt mind requires something with brain-like capacities but - depending on what it is we find to be necessary for mind - this something could be a tad surprising.
I drank in the meantime - as the more perspicacious no doubt already noted - quite some alcohol so I will allow myself to cut to the chase. Mind is eminently a social thing, to have a mind requires one to be a social animal of some sort. The common idea of brain-mind identity is rather unavoidable because a brain of some sort is functionally required to be a social animal for all we know. But mind is not in the first instance related to such a brain. It is rather related to it only in the second instance, via intermediary of verbalized social interaction that is itself most probably directly predicated to brains in the individuals that make up the society in the first place.
Hence the after-life. One can only hope you did not forget the Faulkner quote whilst reading the, as per usual verbose, verbiage above. When body, & thus brain, are not necessary to the mind; the decomposition of body & brain can't in itself cause the demise of the mind. If we then use the term 'death' related to persons or selves it does not stand for an end (nor would it stand for some kind of beginning) but for a transition. Instead of a mind that can, for reasons of ease of reference, be associated to a body one passes to a mind that does its persisting in its necessary context of social interaction. Like somebody that moved out of your sphere of friends - because of argument, because she has moved, because it was too difficult to keep bothering about his desires, ... - it is out of sight but it is unavoidably forever in your mind. Whenever your mind experiences this loss is when the mind, that has been thought lost, manifests itself again.
The term that applies to this kind of disembodied after-life is 'resonate' and a metaphor could be that of a social symphony in which individual minds can be heard as individual themes. Neither the theme can exist without a symphony - nor the symphony without this theme. It is not at all like the after-life of the religious fanatics because what is preserved is one's self without redemption & without judgment whatever; whatever you were will persist in the measure that you were worth remembering by other minds. The family leaving without having made any impression will be like anything perishing without ever being seen.
I have to say: if any of you takes this embryonic thought & makes it your own - know that you will be eternally damned.

 


 

Whilst writing this I was listening to Thelonious Monk, It's Monk's Time, Sony Music 2003.

18:58 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: tones, faulkner, imagination, self |  Facebook |

21-04-08

Transzendentale Methodenleere

"Freilich fand es sich, dass, ob wir zwar einen Turm im Sinne hatten, der bis an den Himmel reichen sollte, der Vorrat der Materialien doch nur zu einem Wohnhause zureichte, welches zu unserem Geschäften auf der Ebene der Erfahrung gerade geraümig und hoch genug war, sie zu übersehen; dass aber jene kühne Unternehmung aus Mangel an Stoff fehlschlagen musste, ohne einmal auf die Sprachverwirrung zu rechnen, welche die Arbeiter über den Plan unvermeidlich entzweien, und sie in alle Welt zerstreuen musste, um sich, ein jeder nach seinem Entwurfe, besonders anzubauen. Jetzt ist es uns nicht sowohl um die Materialien, als vielmehr um den Plan zu tun, und, indem wir gewarnet sind, es nicht auf einem beliebigen blinden Entwurf, der vielleicht unser gänzes Vermögen übersteigen köntte, zu wagen, gleichwohl doch von der Errichtung eines festen Wohnsitzes nicht wohl abstehen können, dem Anschlag zu einem Gebaüde in Verhältnis auf den Vorrat, der uns gegeben und zugleich unserem Bedürfnis angemessen ist, zu machen." Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Reclam, 1966, p. 726.

(highly recommended semi-official English internet translation below)


I know: a poet he was not. Nevertheless, this is a sublime poetic truth. It is much like my history teacher (the forever unknown Jef Arras) told me twenty years before I mustered the courage to read, happily unguided as ever, this rather annoying but great book: there was philosophy before and after Kant & only the latter was of significance.
Immanuel shifted philosophy into proper scientific progress. It took some time for it to be widely felt. The truth is that many still today - but more about that later - dive head first into the concrete wall of trying to explain everything, &, more specifically, everything at once. The sad truth is that the big pockets of tower-building megalomania can be found in scientists blabbering out rather haphazard 'philosophical' truths, getting them into playing yes/no games with the most profound stupidities of organized religion.
But let's be positive. Since Kant philosophy is no longer polemic & rhetoric but a place where people can cooperate (for instance using the great arts of both polemic & rhetoric). Although he does not finally get to stating it outright, the spirit introduced is the spirit that more than a century later was explicitly put in words by Carnap: philosophy not as a means to get the final word but as a means to allow a community of builders to erect a workable community where at least what is said can be clearly understood. A search, if you will, for how a first word could ever be uttered as well as understood in the way it had been intended to be understood (& so to the by now not yet classical enough: & so forth & so on).
What then is the plan?
For sure not the plan Kant was thinking of, or at least not in the specific way he was thinking of it. The plan is unwinding literally, to the extent that only the process, the form of a plan, remains. Philosophy is no longer a place to make those big substantive claims about this, that or even the other. What remains is slight at best for those in need of fast mental food - but this lack, if a lack it is, is made up big time by the universality of what is still claimed as to the due process of our reasoning (and consequently of our moral living). How we progress in philosophy is how we progress in everyday life, maybe, if we are to progress at all but that's the subject of many other quoughts.

Let me self-indulgently quote from my - probably forever unknown - thesis: "Commonsense Reasoning: Do Humans Think?". More specifically a passage directly following the Kantian quote of today's quought:

"The debates within the cognitive sciences pretty much feel the same way the Scholastic debates must have felt to I. Kant. Divisions inspired by strong principles alongside a substantial fragmentation on very specific matters. Specifically with reference to so called 'higher' cognition one finds rather heated debates between a more rationalist point of view and a more empiricist view.
My, maybe somewhat overambitious, contention is that by and large the analogy holds. The divisions and debates referred to above mask a more profound issue similar to the one Kant dealt with. This common source consists in the shared view that the mind should be able to mirror, in principle, the external human behaviour of reasoning. In other words, the brain is a minature computer of sorts on which all overt reasoning can be implemented and the brain is, as well, the source of the mind.
In the terms of the quote above, I hold that these views 'are bound to fail by lack of material', in the brain. There is more to the social practice of reasoning than can be accounted for by the mere operation of the brain. At the same time there is more to the operation of the brain than can be functionally accounted for using the basic terminology of pure reason."

With this I at least achieved this: I was quoted somewhere.


"We have found, indeed, that although we had contemplated building a tower which should reach to the heavens, the supply of materials suffices only for a dwelling-house, just sufficiently commodious for our business on the level of experience, and just sufficiently high to allow our overlooking it. The bold undertaking that we had designed is thus bound to fail through lack of material - not to mention the babel of tongues, which inevitably gives rise to disputes among the workers in regard to the plan to be followed, and which must end by scattering them all over the world, leaving each to erect a separate building for himself, according to his own design. At present, however, we are concerned not so much with the materials as with the plan; and inasmuch as we have been warned not to venture at random upon a blind project which may alltogether beyond our capacities, and yet cannot well abstain from building a secure home for ourselves, we must plan our building in conformity with the material which is given to us, and which is also at the same time appropriate to our needs."


Whilst writing this I was listening to This Mortal Coil

22:01 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: kant, convergence, form-content, universals |  Facebook |

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