An holonic explication of the mind-body relation
Brief recap of Part I
In part I, I attempted to deconstruct the mind-body problem as articulated by physicalist philosophers to expose it as a problem which has no hope of any logical solution given the fundamental terms in which it is posed and the concepts upon which it rests.
This is not to identify it as a problem arising from any misuse of ordinary language as in the Wittgensteinian tradition, but as a problem which arises from accepting an inadequate ontology arising from certain philosophically uncriticised epistemic limitations of the scientific methodology.
I suggested that the scientific methodology was epistemically biased or unbalanced -- not a problem for science per se, but a problem for philosophy insofar as it fails to maintain some critical distance from science in its embracing of the scientific ontology as if it arose out of an entirely adequate epistemology.
If philosophers are going to arrive at any possible understanding of the relationship between what we, in terms of the scientific world view, have called the objective world which includes brains and the subjective world which includes thoughts and feelings, they need to be wary of hitching their philosophical wagon to science’s horse as it privileges the third person perspective.
In connection to the epistemic bi-polar logical structure of human epistemology -- the first and third person perspectives -- I cited an account by a philosopher who is a participant in the current academic mind-body debate, namely, Max Velmans, who presented a situation clearly demonstrating the logical inseparability and phenomenal unity of the experiential field including both objective observations of the brain and subjective experiences.
I then introduced the idea of a conceptual language better suited to logically describing the fundamental units generally seen to constitute the world and generally referenced by such terms as ‘things’, ‘bodies’, ‘brains’, ‘minds’ etc. This was the idea of the bi-polar holon which has been developed by Ken Wilber to give a hierarchical quadra-polar overarching account of the world, human behaviour, mind and experience as well as to lay out a non-reductive program of human knowledge.
A Critique of Wilber’s Left and Right Quadrants with reference to the mind/matter relation
As we have seen, the 4-quadrant model apparently maps experience on the left and correlative observable structures on the Right such as organismic structure, brain states and behaviour. It seems that Wilber draws objective stuff and publically observable processes on the Right all the way down, and subjective experience on the Left all the way down -- exteriors on the Right all the way down: interiors on the Left all the way down.
But are we not then simply given a map showing the correlations of experiences on the one hand with brain states, proto-sensations and cellular activities on the other? Does this give us a special purchase on the nature of the relation of the experience and the correlative brain state of a particular human? And what about the old problem of distinguishing the real object -- i.e. body, brain etc -- from our experience of the object? In other words, does Wilber’s Right signify the real object -- a scientific realist assumption -- or does it signify only the human third person experience of the object? If the Right denotes the real object, then his model is stained by naïve realism and the ordinary Cartesian subject/object relation. If the Right signifies the experience of the object, then experience actually lies on both sides of the Left/Right holonic divide. But such experience necessarily cannot be the experiential manifold of any one person (holon) -- i.e. cannot be the bifurcation in the private and public facets of any one person’s experience -- and give us any purchase on the mind-brain relation.
It appears that Wilber intends that the Right signifies the brain structure and process which refers to a real and concretely existing brain made up of real complex energy structures -- atoms in molecules in neuronal cells in cell systems etc. To think of Wilber's Right hand quadrants as actual “stuff”, as “energy” is to make the holonic claim (also made by DeQuincey) that energy equals the outside (the object) and experience equals the inside (the subject) of any holon. This puts the spatial or energy-field infrastructure on one side of the holonic divide and perception on the other all the way up and down. Thus what we call mind or experience and what we call matter or energy are both equally real all the way up and down. Although this enframes a scientific realism, mind cannot be reduced to a property of matter.
Wilber’s model as its stands does make the significant claim that experience is not derived from physical and biological structures but rather, co-evolves with them from the beginning. Since Left and Right are driven right down to origins, this model depends on the validity of the panpsychist or panexperientialist view that qualia and mind are somehow inherent at the foundations of things, at the very beginning of things where “things” are not yet things and minds are not yet minds. In fact, Wilber’s model looks most ungainly and inelegant if we continue the right hand “stuff” or energy quadrants (the Right interpreted to denote the real object) down to the Big Bang yet chop the left hand quadrants off at Gaia, say (the advent of living cells). But without the Left quadrants going all the way down, the whole experience/matter or mind/brain question would be unanswered by this model.
Panexperientialism may be a reasonable alternative view to physicalist views in that it ostensibly answers physicalist dogma 1 above (i.e. the dogma which ruled out the possibility of some sort of qualia being present at the level of physics). To put it in Whiteheadian terms, the lowest level is to be understood as interactive societies of “occasions”, or prehensive/energy events. But how does Wilber’s model show that experience on the Left and objective energy structures on the Right are holonically related rather than simply correlated -- merely coexistent in some inarticulable way?
This form of panexperientialism still tells us nothing of the relationship of experience and energy -- how they are ontologically related beyond simply stating that both are present at each level. How does holonic logic clarify this relationship? Also, what does it mean to say that real mind perceives real matter? Such a relation of observer on the Left observing the world on the Right would imply a Cartesian dualism of the observer observing an object as it is naively taken to be in itself -- this is certainly not a holonic relation. In answer to these problems which arise from the scientific realist framing of the Right quadrants I want to say that a holon is not an objective real something which has an inside and an outside. It is, rather, the case that any holonic entity is an inside/outside which only makes sense in relation to another experiencer.
Remember how a holon was defined as that peculiar Janus-faced or bi-polar tendency of any “thing” to show up one way when viewed from one point of view and in an opposite way when viewed from another point of view? This logic certainly applies to the vertical strata of the hierarchical structure and to the Upper/Lower quadrant relation, but how does this same logic apply to the Left and Right quadrant relation (as it should if the two bi-poles are to be cross-related)?
We know that Upper and Lower quadrants and the different structure levels (atoms in molecules in cells etc.) are both articulated through the third person perspective -- it’s the different and bi-polar ways that any (and every) one of us looks at things. But Left and Right signify a polarity which is more complex. Subjectivity/objectivity -- that which Wilber terms the I and the it -- is a product of both the first and third person perspectives. But this cannot refer to the first and third person perspectives of any one organism or human alone in perceptual relation to any object. For example, I am looking out of my window at the garden, trees and birds. I can frame this as a picture of the world which any sighted person can similarly perceive if they seat themselves down in my spot at this time. Alternately and holonically I can frame this picture as my experience, that is, it is as much my experience as is the pain in my knee or the thought in my mind which do not disclose a public world. But if these two ways of understanding the experience of any one person or organism were what Wilber means by his Left and Right, then his Left and Right would tell us nothing about the experience-brain relation of any one person since it only references the two ways we tend to think of experience -- what it is “in itself” and the real world it allegedly discloses. If Left and Right is going to tell us something about the mind-brain relation (as Wilber himself claims that it does) then to the Left we will naturally need to assign my experience of the garden (whether or not I am interpreting it as an objective garden or as my experience) and on the Right we will assign the inevitably correlative processes going on in my brain.
So it seems that Wilber’s Right Upper quadrant actually conflates two modes of objectivity: In one sense, the right-hand objective world signifies how a person A’s experience shows up as a correlative brain state of A. In the other sense, it must signify the objective world of which A is aware of just like every other holon. Wilber’s Left and Right quadrants cannot signify the first and third person perspectives of any one holon or person and at the same time map the experience/brain relationship. The brain state correlates with the holon’s experience whether we interpret that person’s experience in a first person or a third person manner. We cannot evoke the same logic to describe the epistemic relation of observer and observed as is being evoked to describe the relationship of thought and correlative brain state. This is a serious incoherency in Wilber’s model if we interpret it in this way.
When we encounter an organism or a person, we are aware of his or her objectivity (body, brain, behaviour) but not his or her subjectivity. We can’t just flip the coin the way we do when we look at people as individuals qua individuals and at those same individuals as a group (the Upper/Lower quadrant relation). But as we look at another holon -- necessarily as an object (although there is also a horizontal human subject/subject relation beyond the scope of the present argument) -- we take the third person perspective. Then we become aware of ourselves as having an experience of the other where phenomenologically they are the same thing seen from the bi-polar holonic first-third person perspective.
There are some logical difficulties with Wilber’s model but I believe that we can iron out some of the incoherences to present a more adequate account of the mind/body relation from an holonic perspective.
To make holonic sense of this we need to unpack the implicit assumption built into Wilber’s map, an assumption which has not been adequately articulated. It implicitly assumes the epistemic relation creating the phenomenal field which reveals the private and public domains, but does not map the relation.
In order to preserve a holonic character and avoid Cartesianism, Wilber’s Left and Right must signify the domain of experience disclosing the public world, and the domain of experiencing signifying the private world. But this distinction, a bifurcation which originally mistakenly gave rise to the Cartesian subject/object split, is not holonic; But as the full domain of experience both ‘private’ and ‘public’ (‘thought trees’ and ‘real trees’) stands on one side, then the correlative body/brain/behaviour state stands on the other.
So let me refer to our revised model as the LEFT/RIGHT. See diagram.
Now, if we combine the Velmans observation discussed in Part I with the holonic perspective we get:
The experience of any Holon A mapped as our LEFT is bi-polar with the way that Holon A shows up necessarily in the public experiential domain of Holons B, C etc. The object shows up as the public domain of experience of the other holon -- as body/brain/behaviour of A.
The LEFT and RIGHT rest on an epistemic intersubjective relation not explicit in KW's model. In terms of holonic logic, experience is not holonically bi-polar with a real concrete object.
I want to suggest that KW’s Left and Right categories, if they are to preserve the same holonic logic as his Upper and Lower, work solely as a phenomenological map, a map of experience in mutual epistemic relation between two or more subject/object holons -- not a map of consciousness/world, experience on the Left and world on the Right! Wilber’s model is a bird's eye view abstraction which sets the language of the objective world alongside in a correlative fashion the language of experience. But this mapping doesn't give an answer to the mind/matter relation except to note the obvious non-reductive correlation of experience and brain state and to assert the aboriginal nature of experience along with energy.
In our revised LEFT/RIGHT model, a person is not a mind, not a brain, not both a mind and brain, but a holonic mind/brain or mind/body in epistemic relation to another mind/body. This is reminiscent of the identity theory in that both experience and brain state are viewed as the same thing. But this view is different from the identity theory in that it does not reduce one side of the holonic coin to the other side. My revisioning to form an alternative identity theory suggests Bohr’s complementarity principle -- the wave/particle nature of light. The object or body/brain is how a human holon shows up to another human holon.
We have a map based on the mutual perceptual relationship of two holons (or persons). Each holon is mapped as a LEFT/RIGHT Janus-faced relation. The Right is the objective experience from the perspective of the other which belongs on this other's Left -- that is, on the Right hand facet of the LEFT(see diagram)! That which distinguishes RIGHT from LEFT is precisely, and nothing more than, the self/other relation! That which distinguishes the so-called realm of 'mind' from the so-called realm of 'world' is that A shows up as B's world and B shows up as A's world! The objective form of A is revealed as the subjective experience of B and vice versa. Hence, it follows that the fundamental logical condition underlying all epistemology and ontology is the relationship, not of a Cartesian subject to a Cartesian object, but of a holonic subject/object to a holonic subject/object where the objective form of the one is in some sense equivalent to the subjective form of the other. In this view, subject and object, mind and matter spring into existence in each moment of perceiving and being perceived which occurs all the way from the shadowy prehension level up to the rational-egoic levels of experience/manifestation.
When an entity (x) (atom, organism, human) perceives another entity (y), (y) shows up as an object and (x) shows up as an experience, the content of which directly matches the description that object (y) is claimed to be. Similarly for entity (y) perceiving entity (x). The nature, being, or existence of an entity is 'objective' as the recipient of the perceiving entity and 'subjective' as the perceiving of the other entity. Both entities are subject/objects depending on the nature of the relations between them.
The body/brain is not a concrete or objective dimension which is real independent of experience. Experience is how the holon shows up to itself and includes the body/brain appearance of the other (or any other) holon.
Experience cannot be identified with interiority or subjectivity as distinct from objectivity (as energy). If we following this LEFT and RIGHT relation all the way down we finish up with a panexperientialism which explains fundamental ontology strictly in terms of a mutual epistemology -- outsides and insides, subject/objects are epistemic interrelational phenomena preserving the same ontological substance (i.e. perception) all the way up and down.
This in no way constitutes an idealist reduction of matter (trees) to mind (experience of trees and remembered trees). The concrete reality of y does not 'exist' only in the mind of x because x's very existence depends on y's experience and y's existence is also y's experience of the objective form of x. The objective form of x is the necessary manifestation (actual and potential) of the existence of x's mind appearing before y. Existence and perception is mutually implicative and rests upon a foundational dyadic logic which needs to be pictured as fundamental in this modelling.
The real holonic infrastructure
We have been deconstructing certain incoherencies in Wilber’s model while preserving what is of value in it and offering what I believe is a more coherent explication of holonic logic. Nevertheless, our revisioned account grounds ontology in a pure epistemology. I don’t believe that this is acceptable.
I believe that to articulate the epistemic relation a la Velmans, or holonic logic as I have here explicated it, actually presupposes the concrete reality (i.e. independent of perception) of spatial relations. In order to meaningfully speak of two holons we have to situate them in relation to one another. This spatial situatedness necessary precedes their epistemic mutuality and consequent subject/object, experience/brain polarity. I believe that energy fields from subatomic particles to molecules are not epistemic constructs but are real. They provide an ontological precondition for the possibility of experience -- though not the only precondition.
The significant point to stress here is that these real energy fields or structures cannot be placed on Wilber’s Right as distinct from his Left.
Two subject/object holons in epistemic relationship form the world constituting the field of experience. Not experience on one side and stuff on the other. But this relation rests on the necessary condition of spatial relation. The subject/object epistemology rests upon a spatial infastructure which must undergird the epistemology and make it possible -- a situated relation of points. Some language of space must already be present. The physiosphere is that pure language of space prior to phenomenology -- a hierarchic ordering of atomic spaces to form a molecular space which come together to form a macromolecular space.
Both subjects and objects are constructions in relation to the energic macro/micro spatial infrastructure all the way up through successive energic domains -- from the fields of physics to the still contested but probable morphogenetic fields of the biosphere to the fields of the noosphere and beyond. It must be remembered that in this conception the "object world" is as much a creation of the ontological interface of consciousness and energy as is subjectivity. Substantiality is the spatial relationship of energy fields appearing in consciousness. But systems or wholes are not only biological systems but also mental systems. Mental systems are not supervenient on biological systems but both are simply the different holonic faces of the animal or human holon in epistemic relationship, a complex relationship which is supervenient on the energy field structures which constitute the inferred physiosphere. I am using the term supervenient here to signify an emergent higher level which generally accords with the lower structure but which is not reducible to it in terms of sufficient cause or description.
Because we normally arrive at and articulate cosmos by analyzing down the spatial systems of the body/brain rather than the mind (object appearance rather than subject appearance), we think of the cosmic foundations as physical -- that is, physical as distinct from mental. But this bottom level has no more affinity to the body/brain than it has to the mind; rather, it is neither physical not mental, neither subjective nor objective. Its ontological substance undergirds the multiplicity of epistemically interactive holonic centres.
Both the “physical” (objects, things) and the mental (experiences) are phenomenal -- belonging to the same manifold but perspectivally different -- but the historically original manifestation of the universe is simply pre-phenomenal. Space is neither physical nor mental but is the necessary though not sufficient condition of both. To think of its ontological substance as more like the brain than the mind is simply a bias committed by physicalists and dualists alike.
Both the brain and the mind are constructs within the phenomenal and experiential field -- but this field is not within one person’s field itself but constitutes a mutual cross interface of fields (i.e. Velmans and my holonic epistemic diagram). Science infers the structural dynamic geometry which makes this experiential field (i.e. interfacing fields) possible -- the infrastructure without which there would be no experiential field, even though it does not cause it to be.
So it is not that the physiospheric order underlies the brain which then gives rise to mind; rather, this complex hierarchical spatial infrastructure must undergird both the brain and the mind! The question is, is it adequate to do so? If not, what constitutes an adequate ontological ground for the entire spectrum of human experiences including brains and thoughts?
Our reframing moves the terms of the experience/brain relationship away and beyond the terms of the Cartesian subject/object relation and also beyond the purely epistemic holonic subject/object to subject/object relation I articulated above (see diagram).
We do not see space/energy, we infer it as an immediate intuition, as an inferential posit.
Yet scientific realism is based on this posit. We know that the world of odours, sounds, colours etc. exists epistemically at higher levels but not at molecular and atomic levels -- unless of course we are panexperientialists who believe that even these levels are sustained through a complex nexus of epistemic relations.
Similarly we do not perceive consciousness. Yet if we can posit the ontological priority of spatial energy fields even though we cannot perceive them directly, then we are equally logically obliged to posit the existence of consciousness. (There are necessary semantic agreements needing to be made here concerning the terms ‘experience’, ‘consciousness’, ‘awareness’ as Chalmers stresses). We must infer both energy and consciousness which exist together in some sort of interface which gives rise to our worlds both “inner” and “outer”, both minds and bodies. In this sense we might say that we are consciousness/space or that we exist and unfold in consciousness/space.
But just as energy/space cannot properly be mapped as one side of the holonic divide (namely the RIGHT), consciousness cannot be mapped as one holonic face (namely the LEFT).
Before saying more about the necessary metaphysical inferential process called for as much in scientific realist accounts as in models which recognize the nonreducibility of consciousness, I want to go back and pick up the thread that philosophy historically dropped before it entered into that uneasy alliance with scientistic reductionism dragging along all sorts of old questionable Cartesian and Lockean distinctions.
Back to the eigthteenth century
Empiricism lost its way after Hume -- bogged down in and unable to answer radical phenomenalism. Unable to refute the Humean empiricist cul de sac yet eager to maintain the integrity and objectivity of the world as revealed by Newtonian science, the up-to-then rationalist Kant shifted the focus of philosophy from Leibnizian and Wolfian metaphysics to an analysis and identification of the universally embedded epistemic structures which he argued constructed the phenomenal yet real world known by science while declaring the world-in-itself (the noumenon) forever out of bounds of human knowing. Going beyond Hume, the knower and the known were confined to the realm of experience, yet confined to a domain constrained and constructed by a priori categories -- not the analytical a priori of mere definition, but the a priori of given epistemic structures. The old appearance and reality division (phenomenon and noumenon) was now cast in stone, yet a new insight had emerged -- the insight as to the foundational role of epistemic structures (i.e. perceptual glasses which would become more and more relativised) in the production of the world, even the world of science.
After Kant, British empiricism -- drawn by a different and more prosaic spirit than the German who took off from Kant to explore the vistas of evolving human experience (Schelling and Hegel) -- rejected Humean ‘flat-screen’ subjective phenomenalism as the ground of knowing. Avoiding the embarrassing arguments of Berkeley and Hume -- who legitimately challenged the distinction of primary and secondary qualities -- British philosophers by and large preferred to continue merrily on a realist and scientistic path which reached its apogee in the manifestos of logical positivism. But the obviously authoritarian tone and atomistic Newtonianism of that school in an age where science itself was challenging its own classical concepts, eventually led to a disenchantment, a process with its roots in the most brilliant member of the original Vienna school, Luwig Wittgenstein. But the linguistic turn proved unfruitful because it failed to see that language is as much constituted by epistemic structures as it constitutes them. Since then, in a continuation of an anti-metaphysical spirit, science has again become authoritative for naturalistic philosophy because of new developments in cognitive science, artificial intelligence and a systems approach which has brought -- legitimately enough -- a new and cognitively expanded holistic dimension to the earlier modernist atomism, though a dimension still essentially devoid of experience.
Conveniently avoided is the philosophical problem of how we legitimately get from the manifold of human experience to what things are independent of experience, or what the precondition of experience is and how we know it in such a way that is not confined to the field of experience. Instead the mind-body problem continues to be framed as a problem arising from the implications of the scientific conception of the world as if the Newtonian and pre-Kantian scientific view of nature had never been challenged except in its scientific details. This view of science combined naïve realism with the Lockean division (from Galileo & Descartes) of primary and secondary qualities, a division significantly challenged by Berkeley and Hume and never answered -- only avoided, even after Kant.
As pragmatically successful and technologically impressive as science is, from a philosophical perspective science is epistemologically limited to being only a quantifying measurement, analysis, and radical division of phenomena which present as the field of experience, not the field of experience as a totality, but as those phenomena which present through the experience of spatial movement and tactile resistance. The scientific view identifies as the real these smallest units measured in the actional/spatial field -- e.g. dividing a rock down until we get to the atoms and then dividing the atoms and so on. It is a fundamental assumption of the scientific methodology that something stands behind the instrument-assisted senses to which we get closer and closer as we carve it into ever smaller units. What is significant here is not whether scientists actually believe or do not believe that this is what they are doing. Rather, the problem is that physicalist philosophers (including epiphenomenalists and others) seem to believe it. Such a view comes awfully close to a logically incoherent fusion of the Kantian noumenon and the Lockean mathematized primary qualities -- both concepts which have serious philosophical problems. The mind-body problem arises from the realist scientific view which rests on the assumption that the scientific methodology is a complete and epistemologically adequate way of knowing the real beyond the endless perspectivalism of the intellect-assisted senses.
But that which lies (if indeed anything lies) ontologically prior to the experiential field is an inference, not solely a logical inference, but a metaphysical one. Scientific realism is a reasonable metaphysic but I believe not an adequate one. But the problem is not within the scientific methodology per se which, though epistemically limited, has expanded to include ideas of complexity and emergence (ideas incorporated by W’s model) but in the conviction of certain physicalist philosophers that this methodology is an adequate view of the world while denying that their position is in fact a metaphysic -- that is, an ontological inference to which they give privileged academic status while marginalizing other views.
Such metaphysical prohibition has been advocated not only by logical positivists and physicalist philosopher’s but also be post-modern cultural-linguistic relativists. Since we humans, constituted fully by our intellectually-assisted senses, cannot avoid making metaphysical inferences and constructing models, then we are constrained to do so in ways which give the most adequate and inclusive accounts of the entire as yet known spectrum of human experience. This is what Ken Wilber attempts, I believe partially successfully, but by no means fully adequately since the metaphysical quest which is called for after the postmodern critique is inevitably an ongoing conversation, an openended process of model building or mapmaking without end.
Metaphysical posits and the necessity of metaphor
All metaphors are necessarily physical/sensory models and hence, if they are being used to express a metaphysical picture which goes beyond the purely physical tend to be ruled out of court as significant by those who insist that physical models can only model the physical. In physicalist views of the world the physical models of science are taken literally -- i.e. not as metaphors. Yet these views are actually reified metaphors arising from sensory experience. An example of the inevitable deconstruction of metaphors through the development of science is the notion of the physical object as foundational which turned out to be a projection of the idea of a rock onto the foundations of the cosmos. Thus to evoke metaphor to express an ontology beyond the mere physical cannot be ruled out of court without committing the logical error of insisting that since metaphors evoke sensory/physical models we can only speak of physical realities by evoking them.
But ancient myths and cultural narratives tell concrete stories of concrete humans and animals invested with numinosity which in the hands of a Jung, a Neumann, a Campbell, reveal truths about human psychology and history -- non-physical, but not metaphysical realms. And then there is Plato’s cave, or Ouspensky’s metaphor of people of the plane encountering influxes from people of the cube -- these are metaphysical constructions. The metaphysical arises at the interface of discursive thought and metaphor (suggestive of the interface of philosophy and literature of which Rorty speaks).
To understand ourselves and the world as any kind of whole we are forced to posit basic principles and notions which can be found nowhere in our direct experience -- such as the ontological primacy of the idea of efficient cause for which Hume searched in vain. Such ideas as space and energy are absolutely foundational but we see neither (otherwise we wouldn’t be forced up against debating the differences and adequacies of Euclidian and non-Euclidean spaces, or debating the reality of biological morphogenetic fields as on a par with, but at a higher level than, the fields of physics). But consciousness is as much an irreducible and foundational notion as space, time, and energy. Yet we do not see consciousness. These are the terms we posit immediately to make sense of our experience and our world, to make it possible. These general principles, as inadequately and metaphorically expressed as they are (and subject to change through the developments of human knowledge and experience), are taken through our most basic conviction to constitute the ontological ground of our very being and experience.
The scientific quantification and description of the phenomenal realm rests on certain rules of coherency and repeatability. Philosophy gets into its muddles by confusing the logical categories of empirical articulations on the one hand with the necessary posits underlying the scientific view on the other. Then when we get into phenomenology, depth psychology, and ethics (not to mention art, literature, spirituality, non-ordinary but non-pathological experiences, and extra-sensory capacities) philosophy must be bold enough -- not dogmatically, but through an ongoing conversation -- to posit those principles necessary to take into account these dimensions; namely consciousness, meaning and value, being the most immediate and indisputable.
So when we speak of the given and indisputable interface of consciousness and energy which occurs through and as the biosphere, we must not confuse these terms (as did Descartes and physicalist and idealist philosophers since) with the first/third person, subject/object or holonic subject/object to subject/object interrelational logic of human epistemology.
It is when we posit consciousness as subject and energy as object, or when we posit consciousness as Wilber’s Left and energy structures as Wilber’s Right that we get into trouble. This is similar to when we try to understand quantum processes in terms of a model of the cosmos where hard bits with absolute location bonk around in absolute space according to classical dynamics. Such views express the limits of our foundational metaphors requiring us to articulate more adequate metaphors for dealing with the evidence.
Brain and mind, subjectivity and objectivity, arise through the interface of consciousness and energy fields at successive levels of evolution. Mind is no less physical than brain. Brain is no more nor less physical than mind. Having claimed such a monism of mind and brain, I’m not tacitly sneaking in the idea that this “physicality” is more like mind than matter which is the sense one gets from panexperientialism. They are both constituted by energy-fields.
It is significant that we cannot say that the brain is more like the physical energy stuff in the basement than the mind. Nor can we say the opposite as in idealism. Neither brain nor mind is simply in space, simply energy-field. Both are the product of the interface of consciousness and energy-fields, energy-fields which are not simply at the lowest level of physics. Energy fields constitute the biosphere at ever more complex levels -- also the noosphere and beyond what we reference as this physical universe.
Is this dualism? I would say not since dualism tends to identify consciousness with subject and energy with object. Substance dualism has been problematic because it is always conceived through an illogical conflation with the Cartesian subject/object distinction. Since the interface of what we are calling energy and consciousness is ontologically prior to the world of minds and bodies, subjects and objects, it can be “understood” only metaphorically.
The interactive problem which is the main objection to dualism does not arise in our conception because the intention and the movement of the arm are, as physicalists say, both “physical”, both energy systems, not different ontologies. But as these energy-field forms or structures become more complex they are more and more bathed in the light of consciousness (which is actually a manifold or spectrum of consciousness and unconsciousness). In fact if they weren’t so bathed, then they wouldn’t develop. There can be no high-level zombie organisms. This is why epiphenomenalism is false because upward development in terms of complexifying conscious energy structures is driven by the consciousness/energy interface and not solely be energic interactions (cosmic rays and DNA molecules etc.) at the level of physics.
At the human and noospheric level, consciousness is not all pervading, it does not illuminate as one manifold the thought and the correlative brain state which constitutes an individual. Prior to the mystical level of cosmic consciousness, consciousness situates itself, or illuminates in a partial and situated manner, from the spatial perspective of a particular organism or human. Humans are compounds, as says Wilber, but that which makes them uniquely human is their personhood which ontologically consists of high subtle energy-fields (those brain states we’re still looking for as direct correlations with thoughts) rather than mapping lower level states in the compound (presently, neuroscientists are only mapping downward causation).
Consciousness is not simply an epiphenomenal biproduct of energy fields but a gradually intensifying illumination which alters the interplay of the parts of the field interacting. That is, consciousness at each stage/level signifies the organization of a set of parts into a systemic order which is more than the sum of the parts, which are no longer constrained by the factors at their own level (e.g. efficient causes) and now operate together in new and more conscious and spontaneous orders. In psychology, neurotic loops and patterns, when appropriately exposed to the “light” of a new and higher consciousness can re-order themselves to come to operate as a more creative and expressive whole. In terms of upward development, the energic field structures constituting the brain/mind/world are bathed in consciousness and consequently establish themselves into a higher level ordering.
Mystics have asserted that experience of the Ultimate level is not really an experience.
In other words, ultimate realization is beyond all worlds, beyond all energy states and fields, all situatedness. It is pure Consciousness. This suggests that there can also be pure energy without consciousness, an energy (the level of physics) which cannot be ontological reduced to consciousness anymore than consciousness can be ontologically reduced to energy.
This form of dualism is indeed a metaphysical claim -- but no more a metaphysical claim than physicalist monism. And it is a dualism which does not deny the physicality of the mind along with the brain and does not get fouled up in the horns of the mind/brain and subject/object distinction nor, through an inadequate explication of holonic logic, get explained in terms of a holonic polarity which implies a questionable panexperientialism.
Also, the positing of a Ground for this universe which accounts for the two overarching poles -- energy and consciousness (evoking the idea of Prakriti and Purusha in Samkya doctrine, not to mention the Taoist yin and yang) does not fall prey to the error of seeking the source through an infinite regression. This is because there is no need to find, or logical sense in looking for, a source which is time-prior to this universe because this universe is time. We are simply saying here that time is grounded in the timeless, the finite in the infinite.
So consciousness cannot be identified with mind as distinct from matter. It is not an observer observing an object; it is, rather, the interface of consciousness with higher level energy fields producing the phenomenal manifold which includes the so-called inner and outer worlds -- minds and bodies. Consciousness is like a tidal flow coming in as consciousness, flowing out as unconsciousness (not nonconsciousness which is the pre-biotic energy field structures).
Phenomenology is the given. This phenomenology is structured by the logic of first, second, and third person perspectives (i. e. “I” as subject; “I/thou” as intersubjective; “it” as object). It comes with two immediate and indisputable intuitions which are integral with human phenomenology, the human experiential field; namely, the knowledge of the reality of relative situatedness and spatialized structure and the knowledge of consciousness, or more precisely the ebb and flow of consciousness/unconsciousness. These are the givens.
It is when we arrange these givens according to a certain logic that the mind-body problem arises. The logical error is precisely the identification of consciousness with the observing subject and the identification of space-energy with the observed object.
When we normally speak of consciousness as consciousness of something we are actually identifying consciousness with the subjective pole of the phenomenal experiential field. But consciousness is ontologically prior to the field of experience just as is spatialization.
The subject/object relationship signifies the logical structure of human phenomenology whereas the interplay of space/energy and consciousness (neither of which constitutes the data actually observed) is the fundamental ontology which makes experience possible in the first place (i.e. experience whether understood as a simple subject/object relation, or holonically as an epistemic interrelation of subject/object holons). As said, the main problem of duality is how to explain the obvious interactivity of mind and body, subject and object -- but this is only because consciousness has been identified with mind and space-energy has been identified with body. Mind and body are not separate or distinct ontologies.
We have seen that dualities can be understood more deeply as holonic polarities including the wave/particle nature of light. The question as to “how” matter (i. e.space-energy or energy-fields) and consciousness “interpenetrate” is not an empirical question nor is it grounded in an empirical observation that seems to negate the assertion of the difference between a subjective ontology and an objective ontology. That is, we don’t see or experience anything which seems to directly call into question the interpenetration of consciousness and energy. Consciousness and matter (i.e. space-energy) do not interact in the sense that we witness how the one acts effectively on the other so as to legitimately call into question how one ontology can possibly act on a different one. We do not witness consciousness acting on matter in the way that I can witness how my own thought/intention moves my arm. When it comes to articulating this interface we have trouble, except to try to express it in terms from the experiential manifold and the metaphors it provides just as physics is hard put to explain the ultimate nature of space/energy/particle beyond human generated metaphors, models, and mathematical constructions.
I would like to offer a metaphor in the traditional spirit of metaphors such as Plato’s cave giving a poetic sense of the interface of energy and consciousness. After that, I would like to offer a different conception.
A metaphor of ocean and sun light as the interface of energy and consciousness
If the ocean down to its very depths denotes the energy fields all the way up to the noospheric, then consciousness might be thought of as like the light of the sun which shines down into the ocean depths becoming dimmer as we go down. The level of physics denotes the bottom reaches of the ocean entirely devoid of light. But as we go up (evolution) through the advent of living forms the light grows stronger. Getting rather nearer to the surface we see the advent of human consciousness where the ocean is illuminated down some way beneath but fades off into the darkness of the atomic and subatomic realms. Humans are obsessed with gazing horizontally and into the depths at all the life forms and activities but some -- yogic adepts, shamans, mystics, saints, Buddhist meditators, many people in moments of inspiration, love etc. -- look upward and actually find themselves moving closer to the surface and the pure light. Where did the light come from? How was it produced out of the dark depths ask the physicalist philosophers? Then some metaphysician claims that the light comes from elsewhere than the ocean and shines into and illuminates the ocean showing us all the creatures that we are and which surround us. But the philosophers reply that that is religious nonsense invoked to explain things which will eventually be explained without invoking supernatural forces. Besides, how could this light and this water possibly interact if they are so different?
Consciousness in this way of understanding it is not a subjective ontology nor is space/energy an objective ontology since these are terms which reference the logical form of phenomenology (yet tend to get conflated with our intuitions of consciousness and spatial structure).
An alternate metaphor:
We might call the above metaphor a stuff metaphor. I’d like to suggest another metaphor which is less stuff dependant, an idea reminiscent of P.D. Ouspenky’s (Tertium Organum) account of people of the line encountering the phenomenal influxes from people of the plane who in turn encounter influxes from people of the cube suggesting a meta geometry of higher dimensions, dimensions of which we are unaware directly but must infer even as we interpret these phenomena quite inadequately from within the limitations of our space.
Just as the first, second and third dimensions of physical space exist in a non problematic relationship with each other, and following Einstein, we can think of a very different sort of dimensionality, namely time, as integrally related to space in such a way that we do not agonize as to how these different types of dimensionality can “interact”, then why can we not posit another dimensionality beyond both space and time, yet a dimensionality intimately connected to it. This other dimensionality is actually the vertical axis of the holonic evolutionary model with its emergent and non-reducible levels. As we move up the vertical line there is a complexification of spatialized energy structures within this third dimensionality (i.e. space = 1st dimensionality; time=2nd dimensionality; life/consciousness=3rd dimensionality). So in this metaphor, the arising of consciousness is the emergence of another dimension in a sequence of (1) space (no time) (2) time, and (3) consciousness. Living organisms and especially higher organisms and humans as ramified and complex structures exists in space-time and in consciousness-space.
Both consciousness (i.e. a spectrum from the dimmest awareness to cosmic consciousness) and energy/space (from sub-atomic levels to complex cellular systems of complex organisms and brains) can be thought metaphorically to be two kinds of space in the logical sense of space being seen as a kind of container within which phenomena can be mapped interrelationally.
Actually, the horizontal axis holonically categorized denotes physical space -- energy, atoms, galaxies and force fields -- the domain described by the language of physics. Like the third dimension of the cube which includes the plane and extends it out to form a set of coordinates that gives rise to events impossible to describe in two dimensions, the vertical axis is that dimension which brings forth qualia, experience or mind. I think consciousness is a space rather than denoting experiential phenomena or energy. What we come to know increasingly as consciousness is indeed the vertical axis as it opens up the higher we go. Through successive levels on the vertical axis the energy fields and formations become more complex and rarified as we move from the fields of physics, to the morphogenetic fields at the the level of the bio-psychic and beyond. In this metaphor, consciousness is not some stuff that mixes it up with energy, even though that would be one way of modelling it.
Physicalists tend to see mind as in some sense a property (albeit a troublesome property) of matter which is in space. But the space they speak of is a quantified space. This space cannot “contain”, or provide the necessary “coordinates” for the language of values, meanings and experiences -- nor a language that can make sense of Wilber’s levels. Ergo, there must emerge another kind of “space” (or dimensionality). Or, this new “space” must be seen as an emergent dimensionality beyond space and time. (Though this calls for some semantic clarification). If this dimensionality is held to be a postulate of some fanciful metaphysical speculation, then one needs only to point out that consciousness is just as obviously a fact as is physical space!
If space can refer to a dimensionality which provides the quantified coordinates for description and explanation of spatial events, where is the justified ground for the resistance to calling consciousness another dimension such that if we are going to describe the world in a fully adequate framework it must be at least a five dimensional world including space/time/consciousness? Just as time is a logically different kind of dimensionality than the three spatial dimensions, then this third dimensionality (the vertical emergent axis) can be seen as a logically different kind of dimension than either three dimensional space or time.
(Physical or quantified space probably opens into n dimensions as is suggested in some interpretations of quantum theory, which is why I prefer to designate the vertical axis (which marks an increasing consciousness) as a new dimensionality beyond the n dimensions of space, and of time which probably connects different universes.”
In fact if we open into and explore the “space” of consciousness in very deep meditation we find that in some sense it “contains” both physical space and time entirely beyond perceiver and perceived, self and object, time and space. Such disclosures are particularly evident in the near death (NDE) and out of body experiences (OOBE) especially convincing when such are accompanied by extrasensory knowledge of surrounding events when one is purportedly in a state of clinical death. It is in deep meditation that it is realized that the “space” of consciousness is not interior, but “holds” both interior and exterior as one continuum. This "space" is neither limited by nor identical with either the inner or outer, just like reflections in a mirror which do not touch the mirror, or like things in physical space which do not touch space. Phenomenology (experience) is how things manifest in the space-consciousness continuum.
So we cannot legitimately situate consciousness as the interior Left. Experience-energy constitutes both Left and Right. As we move up the vertical axis, experience-energy complexifies and rarifies. The “container” of all this is that to which we are actually referring (whether we know it or not) when we try to grasp consciousness, which like the sky always lies beyond our reach and beyond even the perceiving self or subject, beyond any qualia or phenomena.
It is indisputable that life and awareness and values cannot be fully grasped or described in the necessarily quantified language of space. Therefore it is perfectly logical rather than supernatural to insist that we need another dimension to include the domain of experience and value which cannot be quantified. We do not have a substance dualism with interactionist problems when we posit space and consciousness as horizontal and vertical dimensions.
This mapping is entirely apart from any question as to whether or not higher and more complex levels of energy-experience exist beyond the mind-space of homosapiens, or in psycho-social terms, beyond modernist perspectivalism with its Cartesian subject-object perception and beyond post-modern multiperspectivalism.