McGilchrist at Embercombe

Missed this conversation last night, so watching the recording today.

Just VERY rough notes for conversation.

What is the matter?
Doesn’t actually answer – but talks around that we all seem to see the plight of western humanity.
Then a long summary of TMWT (inc repeat of TMAHE HH content)

Attention – a moral act
Perception
Judgement – a moral act
Intelligence – cognitive as well as emotional / affective.
Attention as honest encounter – neither PoMo (all is constructed) nor naive reductive (it’s all objectively out there).

Summary of HH
Right – comprehension
Left – apprehension
Map & Terrain as usual

Epistemology
Reason / rationality and Intuition / creativity / imagination

(Negative re “algorithms” X again. ie new science understanding involves creative intuition.)

Tosh about
Arty / Hippie Right
vs
Boring / Sensible / Reliable Accountant Left
In fact left is much more unreliable.

The problem … decline of civilisations losing their L/R balance – the decline can be rapid (years), but new recovery can be very long (centuries).

Can’t be solved by an algorithm X (again).

The problem of social-media chat rooms … left-brain dominates
But we can all begin from the life we lead – tend our own garden, etc.
Prefer “nature” to “environment”.

Human as a computer X again.

Whole synthesis / integration of brain hemispheres.
Seat of consciousness in mid-brain structures? (See Solms)
Endocrine system very much part of brain behaviour, not just neurons. McGilchrist needs to read Solms.

Goethe / Steiner
Jung / Nietzsche
Dionysian / Apollonian

Charlie Rykken (Where does our sense of unity come from – .) – IMcG – Fractal rather than modular – bits that do know about other bits and their relations as a whole – Systematic (holistic) whole. – CR – Relationship between mental – causality (local) & communication – panentheism and panpsychism. Yes!

Joel’s question – language and definitions hemming us in – yes. Especially English / European languages. (I think it’s more to do with what the symbols / words symbolise than the fact we need to have them – allow us to reference shared experience – so more about the kinds of experience (other than things).

Much on Sacred and Divine ?- again – from the  chair.
Scheler pyramid of values – (must check directly).

Theists vs atheists most thoughtful about existenece of divine means?
A subject that cannot be captured in words, so could argue better NOT to have written about it. Agnosticism – Active receptivity – using Rayner’s language again.

Change coming about the sacred – as with modern panpsychist movement.(My position – sacred is real and important, but it’s not supernatural – it’s the RH view.)

Most primitive view – God as engineer  – setting the world machine in motion – X – again, gotta get all the language “dissing” machines out of the way.

(Complexity of real genetic evolution … not his topic … Zombie ants / rats etc. – become a meme – zzzz.)

Hope vs Despair
Urgency of the young – hmmm. (Double-edged)
Trust & Question (ie not cynical – we do need trust – but thoughtful)
Compassion – common in all spiritual / religious traditions.

God Talk and McGilchrist

The small Matter of the Sacred

In a “Discord” discussion-group side-branch off from “Channel McGilchrist” we’ve been having some discussions about the sacred – the most important additional topic in “The Matter With Things” (TMWT) that is not already in his earlier “The Master and His Emissary” (TMAHE).

“The Sense of the Sacred” forms the final Chapter 28 of his ~1600 page TMWT. The sacred gets us close to the divine if not to God, and therefore if we expect the rationalist / free-thought / atheist / would-be-science-led / secular world to take any of this seriously we need to be pretty careful what we mean by the sacred and by theology / atheism / agnosticism etc when it comes to God talk.

[Also, as per the TMWT summary linked above, before reading TMWT and getting to this knotty stage in McGilchrist’s position, it is very important that new readers at least familiarise themselves with the underlying “hemispheric hypothesis” of his original work TMAHE via the 12 minute summary of that in the RSA Animation. His magnum opus TMWT massively elaborates on this and leads to the sacred conclusion, but in doing so, the simplicity of the original problem statement is easily lost by those who do not already have it in mind.]

A Big Conversation

In this UnBelievable Big Conversation entitled “Is there a Master Behind our Mind?” hosted by Justin Brierley with Iain McGilchrist and Sharon Dirckx, the “Master” implied is clearly “God” (ie Not the right-brain master of McGilchrist’s earlier work – though as noted elsewhere, the Master<>Emissary metaphor has it’s own misleading limitations in terms of “balance” in the hemispheric hypothesis.) In fact the UnBelievable Big Conversation channel is explicitly about “exploring religious faith” with believers and unbelievers.

I watched it and made notes a couple of days ago, but have struggled to write-up here until now thanks to a lot of extraneous and unnecessarily contentious content about which I have strong views and disagreements. I’ve put these meta-aspects aside in end-notes below, to focus initially on the core God topic, but the end-note distractions are very important caveats.

The Meat in the Sandwich

After some introductory background to the people and aspects of McGilchrist’s hemispheric hypothesis (and to the unnecessary contentious distractions I noted above and recorded below), the conversation arrives at McGilchrist’s God position after the commercial break at around ~36mins.

The meat of the conversation runs from there to the end at just over the hour mark. (As I type this I’ve not listened to the additional 30 minutes Q&A which forms a separate package of content.)

Brierley introduces the God topic explicitly, acknowledging it as the important new content on which this conversation is to focus.

McGilchrist admits – as he has in many dialogues since publication – to having his own doubts, as well as respected colleagues’ dissuasions, about whether to include Chapter 28 “The Sense of the Sacred”, given that the whole of the rest of the book stands as thoroughly “objective” research across the range of topics from neuroscience and psychology, to ancient history and mythology in literature. But clearly the sacred is the important new conclusion of that research and had to be included. (As well as already being a massive book – 3 parts, 2 volumes, 1600 pages – it is also a superbly produced masterpiece in terms of layout and referencing, and in this conversation we also get from him how much that was down to his own efforts.)

McGilchrist’s position is Panentheist – God in all things / all things in God.  Many a theologian, many an orthodox Christian church, even Buddhists actually hold this position. It’s a position where God is the ground of all being, existence itself – why anything exists rather than not existing.

There are several corollaries.

Such a God may be Omnipresent and Immanent, but is not Omniscient. It has no causal agent powers beyond nature. It’s beyond-being rather than being a super-natural being. It also means – like so much of the rest of Iain’s worldview – that it must be relational, must “withdraw”, make space to stand in relation to that which exists. Being the ground of all existence, it doesn’t itself exist in the world.

[As the Reverend Sam has added in one of the comments below – this is mainstream Christianity anyway, and quotes Denys Turner “in the sense in which atheists … say God ‘does not exist’, the atheist has merely arrived at the theological starting point. Theologians of the classical traditions … simply agree about the disposing of idolatries, and then proceed with the proper business of doing theology.”]

Also, like Buddhism and other seemingly non-theistic mindful spiritual or religious practices, prayer is about listening to – attending to – the world in mental silence, not about active pleading.

Faith necessarily entails doubt. It’s a choice or a disposition to believe despite doubt. Unlike other grounded forms of knowledge, where we will nevertheless have contingencies, these are statements of what is known. None of us can be literally certain of anything, whether we’re talking God or Science – ie it adds nothing to say we’re not certain.

(So I would say both faith and knowledge are essentially pragmatic matters of what it makes sense to believe and declaring (testifying) on what basis, what kinds of evidence and experience. And as far as the wider God vs Science war caricatures are concerned this is essentially an atheistic position, whether we hold it agnostically or explicitly a-theist. I have clarified a long time ago what I mean as a “non-theist”.)

Iain goes on to imply his own agnosticism, that he is open to experience of the supernatural or miraculous. Technically open to experiencing the existence of God – ie technically agnostic – but I would say, atheistic for all practical purposes in both mythical / metaphorical and literal truth of the world. As noted above the idea of the existence of God in this world is meaningless in Panentheism. (See separate dialogue on the Big Bang and the sense of anything existing outside this universe.)

More importantly for the left-right hemisphere hypothesis, he / we are happy to accept the mythical & metaphorical as well as (even ahead of) literal truth. All symbolic / linguistic truths – even scientific ones – are metaphorical at root, it’s just that the metaphors eventually die when the language becomes embedded in use in everyday life. Iain refers to this “death” of the metaphor in terms of the “collapse” of a potential to the actual – (which will prove useful to mind-physical distinctions too?)

The Caveat End-Notes

Generally – I have a downer on people who feel the need to “diss” or counter other peoples views as part of promoting their own – as if it’s an essential part of critical thinking. In fact this “R.E.S.P.E.C.T” principle forms the basis of my own rules of rhetorical discourse. Discourse that disrespects such common courtesy makes me bristle. Unless someone agrees to be told where they’re wrong – eg in formal debate or critique – all discourse can better build from positions of finding & respecting closer agreement, discovering error in the process of dialogue.

Specifically Brierley makes – entirely erroneous and unhelpful – suggestions about Dan Dennett’s position in the earlier sections about consciousness generally. (God knows why?)

Dennett sees nothing but the material? Sees consciousness as entirely emergent from the physical? No he doesn’t! He’s open to informational pan-proto-psychism (eg in dialogue with Goff et al.) and in my own readings. It’s over 30 years since he first wrote “Consciousness (Not) Explained“. Evolution happens. Get used to it.

Dennett says consciousness is an illusion? No he doesn’t! No-one has spent more of their long life in philosophy trying to explain the reality of consciousness than he. Some aspects of consciousness are like illusions, models of reality, maps of the terrain, but not the terrain itself. Some of the intuitions we hold about what our consciousness is are illusory, but consciousness itself is as real as anything.

There is indeed “something more” than the materialist reductive view. Dennett is the biggest proponent of that thought.

People forget Dennett spends most of his life trying to talk sense into materialist / physicalist scientists, so spends a lot of time using their language, finding metaphors they can relate to. Ditto talking qualia with philosophers like Chalmers and his entirely misleading distraction of the “hard (non-)problem”. Evolving the language through that process is his quest. His brief sojurn into the God vs Science wars as one of the four horsemen was him lending a helping hand in the literal-biblical / evangelical US religious context, not to mention wider Islamic Jihadist terrorism, with his “Religion as a Natural Phenomenon“.

Talking of which, early in the Big Conversation above before we’ve got to “God”, Brierley suggests the word religion itself may be an impediment to progress? Well yes, in the sense that we have to get secular rationalist scientific types into the conversation, religious-talk, like god-talk, will be a turn-off. In practice, I have no problem with religion if we’re clear what we mean. Obviously non-ideological, non-authoritarian, non-supernatural, secular forms. Religion as a set of values that we agree bind our common ground as fallible humans sharing the one planet – the Popperian falsifiability of science(?) the form and value of evidence(?) the UN declaration(s) of human rights(?) – we hold these truths to be self-evident(?), whatever. Even having agreed them, it takes concerted efforts to maintain and defend them, even whilst being open to improving them, collectively, democratically or any of the least worst alternatives. Real life is a messy business.

Secular, natural, “religion by any other name” (after Rabbi Sacks).

Sacred Naturalism or Natural Theology, I might say, indeed have said in multiple contexts.

Anyway – let’s stick to the meat in the sandwich above. A recommended listen/watch. (Whether we agree or disagree about the Dennett-critical aside is irrelevant, so why even raise it.)

And let’s all make our own theistic / agnostic / atheistic positions clear.

And I really must get back to my writing project 🙂

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[Post Note: and on the topic of “dissing” things whilst in the process of telling your own story – like dissing Dennett above – one thing Iain in particular has a downer on is anything mechanistic / computing / machine / algorithmic – eg several negative asides in this more recent piece that I’ve not written-up yet. As Iain is so keen to point out, restoring RH balance still demands a healthy LH – we’re not dissing objective rationality here. There is still a compelling story in the left-brain model of how brains and minds work, all of it, including the the RH processes and interactions. We like active process models too, don’t we, after Whitehead? I’m here to bury Systems Thinking not to praise Algorithmic Processes. No-one is being so crass as to suggest the brain/mind is “a” computer with “a” pre-programmed algorithm or two. Complexity benefits from many-layered systems thinking. Keep an open mind, please! I remain baffled what is gained by the negative asides.]

Gaps in the Grammar of the Universe?

Not sure where I picked-up this link, and the spoken version is tedious, but the list of observations include some interest:

9. As algebra is to physics, algorithms are to life— recipes for richer response rules, an open generative language of if-then-else step-by-step logic for choosing.

10. Science presumes intelligible patterns. But its default algebraic language can privilege physics-like pattern types. Game theory (= choosology) paints reliable patterns that can’t be solved for algebraically — they must be played out, algorithmically. Simple, fixed choosing rules can generate un-physics-like seemingly chaotic patterns.

If nothing else “choosology” is a nice neologism for Game Theory. Patterns that can be “solved” only by being played-out, ie lived. (Pretty close to my own conception of life, anyway.)

Rough Notes on Sheldrake’s “Trinity”

Mentioned Sheldrake’s “trinity” in passing at HTLGI last week. He did actually name the three, but I failed to capture … and I’m digging for earlier references.

“Is the Sun Conscious” is the same angle he used last week. Talk part-way down this page from 2015 – as a Christian theist / lay preacher he does of course use Trinitarian concepts in the Christian religious sense in other talks too – looking for the specific formulation he intended here. (When it comes to dualism vs monism – same joke – prefer 3 to 2 or 1. But no detail again. My own metaphysics is “3-aspect” monism. Even a dual-aspect monism can be seen as a trinity? I really don’t care what we call it, all that matters is how it works.)

Pan-psychist turn from materialist philosophers and neuro-scientists in the last decade. Strawson, Nagel & Koch notably … Whitehead was the most interesting early example – philosophy of organism “Science and the Modern World VI” (1925) self-organising systems with their own goals and purposes (unlike “machines”) -> process reality (1927/28) … see also Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes unexpected but promising. (And lots more from him on Panpsychism – as well as “popular” Kastrup and Goff.)

Future, conscious “possibility” vs past / “existing” bodily reality distinction. (This will prove a good first bifurcation – consciousness being about modelling and evaluating “possibility” is a strong thread of mine too – counterfactuals vs factuals etc).

As an atheist I struggle with his personal-being “god” talk, but no matter, lots of his speculations (like Newton’s) are interesting. (And I’m not atheist for bloody-minded reasons – my metaphysics just doesn’t see the need for any intentional “supernatural” agent – beyond those evolved in nature, with powers to go beyond the natural laws of nature. (Happy to use the word god in a Spinozan pantheist way – but not as a causal entity to “believe in”. Though as Rabbi Sacks pointed out any set of values we agree on collectively – eg UN Human Rights et al – is a religion by any other name. That which binds us as humans. No problem with that kind of religion, either – what we hold sacred / sacred-naturalism / natural-theology – just not a supernatural agent of a god.)

Electromagnetic patterns of activity – Hmmm? Don’t buy this physical mechanism. Cosmic objects … earth – moon – star – galaxy – universe. His caricature of the problems with science of cosmology entertaining as ever. Fred Hoyle’s “Black Cloud” as a parable.

Some variation on:

The Word <> The Spirit <> The Mind (of God)

But that’s not how he put it …. damn!

Knowing Ruth Chang

It’s a sign I really need to stop reading and listening to new inputs, and focus on synthesising all the writing I’ve started (but never finished) in the 22 years of blogging.

I noted seeing Ruth Chang “for the first time” last week whilst missing her main talk on making choices, despite being “central to my own agenda”.

Well, I picked-up on Ruth Chang 8 years ago on the very same topic, and had obviously forgotten all bout it.

 

And of course, I watched it again straight through and got exactly the same impression (see previous notes). It is indeed very simple, for the first 7 of the 15 minutes, but whilst still very simply presented the crescendo from there to the end is palpable. It is a mistake to treat choices as scientifically objective, they’re about choosing where to put our subjective agency, the harder and more complex the choice the bigger the opportunity. Could almost be one of the motivational “commencement speech” genre.

(And strangely I only noticed the old link because I was searching for an unrelated image that is central to the premise of a current piece of writing. Still not found that image either … ho hum.)

(And re-reading that summary note about about “choosing where to put our subjective agency” I realise I had “forgotten” Chang because I had effectively internalised her “lesson” already. Great stuff.)

Causation and Existence

I naively branded causation (even just time as the basis of correlation) as “weird” when I first started this philosophical quest over 20 years ago. Paging Bishop Berkeley anyone?

And of course the more we unpick layers of determinism and emergence, upward and downward causation, the weirder it gets. Some things never change. Time and causation are seriously weird.

I noted in my brief review of How the Light Gets In 2022 just last week, how many debates, whatever the explicit “real world” political or scientific topic, degenerated into the inevitably inconclusive – “Ah, well, what do you mean by exist, anyway?”

Weirdly, our whole conversation in the pub last night was around that observation – that and “my” informational-ontology / computational-epistemology / process-metaphysics – something important beyond orthodox science. What I didn’t notice until this morning was that around the same time on Twitter, Kevin Mitchell was posting a string of thoughts arising from his reading of a new paper from the “IIT” team – Tononi et al. – part of “my” metaphysics for some time:

I like Kevin’s style – like my own when blogging my own reading and “reviewing” – is simply posting thoughts in the same order as the reading. It’s really good for sharing – exposing – the thought processes. (ie NOT one of those infuriating threads that are basically, “here’s an essay I’ve written, broken into Tweet-sized chunks”. Post a link to your essay, already!)

Anyway, suffice to say, I hope Kevin preserves his threads, because I liked, retweeted and/or reacted to several of the individual tweets in the context of the whole. One of these was:


To which I responded:

I agree that “truly” – my “really” – is a sure sign of stumbling over something ill-defined. (Although being “well-defined” kills, so definitions need careful handling.)

And, that “ontological commitment” in the original IIT Tweet also a recurring topic – even in last night’s pub conversation. Something I learned from Rebecca Goldstein and Spinoza. Whatever the “science” it needs to be “explanatory” – not just formally captured in theoretical formulae – and explanatory in a sense that allows you to say – “I’m saying this is what actually exists, how things really work, not just a metaphor”. (Ultimately all meaning is metaphorical at root – Hofstadter, and Lakoff / Johnson –  but at some point the metaphor must die, and you need to be committed to saying – “yes I really mean it when I say atoms behave like billiard balls” – if that’s your bag.)

Actually, really, truly, weirdly, madly, deepity 🙂

Time for me to read the actual paper, with Kevin’s helpful notes at hand.

Rayner’s Natural Inclusion in “Occurrity”

There are several points where my own two decade research and blogging journey has crossed paths with naturalist / mycologist Alan Rayner’s conception of Natural Inclusion, specific references to his books, art & poetry, and dialogues related to these.

Like so many of us trying to improve on the reductive, deterministic (deadening) objectivity of orthodox science, it’s as much about finding a language to express and share a better world view as it is about anything so lifeless as redefinition in terms of distinct things. Believe me I’ve tried, as have countless others ancient and modern. If I were to pick one name from the canon of philosophy, Whitehead’s “Process Reality” probably comes closest to trying to tackle the same underlying issue and certainly forms a cornerstone of my own work.

The “flow geometry of place-time” and the “natural inclusion of flow-forms” are just two of many formulations that capture the nature of Alan’s thinking. I’ll add below some specific previous links of mine to Alan’s work, especially his poetry which, when trying to find language that escapes the yoke of orthodox expectation, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised proves a very effective means of communicating shareable understanding. His art too manages to be, at one and the same time, both precisely representational (of nature) as well as clearly metaphorical (of transcendent realities). (Notice that even physicist Sean Carroll embraces a “Poetic Naturalism” as science tries to join up new “ways of talking” with a commitment to reality.)

With two new collaborators – David Peleshok and Candace Bowers – Alan has established the new “Occurrity” web-site, as a showcase for his existing work and a platform for expanding the dialogue.

THE ART & SCIENCE OF NATURAL INCLUSION

NATURAL INCLUSION IS THE MUTUALLY INCLUSIVE, CO-CREATIVE, RECEPTIVE-RESPONSIVE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTANGIBLE SPATIAL STILLNESS AND ENERGETIC MOTION IN THE BEING, BECOMING AND EVOLUTIONARY DIVERSIFICATION OF ALL MATERIAL BODIES, INCLUDING OUR OWN.

Sign-up for updates at the links above.

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[Alan Rayner Previously on Psybertron] that’s 4 pages of links to previous references (!) will highlight important links.]

That Paul Mason Discussion

I’m blocked by OJ, so I’m recording reaction to this retweeted tweet here:

    1. Paul is right on “beergate” and Keir will resign if he’s wrong.
    2. Smirking style from Owen and Michael – makes me question their divisive motives concerning serious complex topics. The whole “I’m not a lawyer but Jolyon Maugham is” is a red-herring from any moral equivalence in principle. (That screenshot above, entirely random, not selected.)
    3. Paul is also right on Sue Gray / Met Police angle with Boris et al.
    4. The (repeated) hype from Owen on “Keir being the most dishonest ever” (and the anti-Blair rhetoric) – laughable, slogan, mantra, scam politics.
    5. Anyway, OK, so here we go, the meat:
      – “kicking-out the left-wing MP’s” his hidden “new labour” project …
    6. Paul is agreeing with some errors of handling the left, too much use of discipline. I’d agree – but hands get forced – by the actions of others.
    7. The sheer stupidity of the anti-Nato petition … set themselves up – “they were asking for it”
    8. Agree the anti-Nato (directly blaming) petition at the time of the Putin invasion – publicly unhelpful / divisive timing (whatever the validity – even “element of truth”- of their free opinion). Truth is one thing, what you do with it is quite another.
    9. Saudi support? Systematic violation of rights – ongoing long-term “Middle-East Problem” – is quite different to resisting an immediate aggressive invasion on our own borders. Neither is acceptable, but we have to choose our response – policy involves tactics as well as strategy – by definition, tactics will conflict with policy. The conflation of Israel / Palestine / Yemen / Arab – racist / antisemitic / antizionist issues – is despicable rhetoric. I agree with Paul – it’s not about what, it’s about how and when.
    10. Laughing whilst accusing people of Imperialism and Saudi Apologism –  not a clue, the “naive” left.

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[Post Notes: I’m seeing this stuff on my timeline because I followed Novara’s founder Aaron Bastani after meeting him a HTLGI22 last week. Michael and OJ are effectively Novara “journalists”. The 10 days experience since thoroughly confirms my view of these mean-spirited naive (young) lefter-than-thou-leftists. It’s all about who they hate. They place no value in an establishment that judges its membership based on their actions – including public statements in relation to itself. Yet they are perfectly happy to publicly slate and mock individuals that disagree with them. Not sure how many odd or even levels of irony that makes it, but man they need to grow up and experience some wisdom. (Sadly promising young philosopher Philip Goff is lost down the same rabbit-hole – for a decade or two I expect.) Paul Mason ain’t perfect but he can tell his Marx from his Bogdanov from his Trotsky. Looks like they got to the local labour group ahead of Paul’s selection process. “One man one vote” is the worst of the least-worst democratic options.]

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