Ep. 25 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - The Clash
(Sectioning and transcripts made by MeaningCrisis.co)
A Kind Donation
Welcome back to awakening from the Meaning Crisis. This is episode 25. Last time we took a look at important developments that are centred upon the figure of Hegel and, again, as I said last time, I can't give a comprehensive analysis of Hegel’s thought. It's too complex and sophisticated! I was trying to do the best I could to capture that within Hegel’s thought which is directly relevant to our understanding the genealogy of the Meaning Crisis. And we saw how Hegel proposes how to move beyond Kant and the Romantics by rejecting Kant's notion of The Thing In Itself and saying, “look, reality is just the patterns of intelligibility! There is nothing above and beyond that…” — a form of Idealism — “…and that as our ideas are being realised, as patterns of intelligibility are being developed, reality is also simultaneously being developed”. And we took a look at this notion of a system, a [-] quasi-living system, of these patterns of intelligibility in development called Geist, and that Hegel proposed that that development can be understood as a process that he called Dialectic, echoing Plato but I think severing the notion of dialectic from Anagoge which figures in some of the criticisms of Hegel that we looked at towards the end.
This dialectic is a process in which ideas — again, not just things in the head, these are patterns of intelligibility, patterns of the way reality is realised both in the sense of being known and being actual — there's this pattern in which ideas articulate and differentiate from each other: One idea is opposed by another, contrasted to, distinguished from, and then it is taken up in a higher order integration. And then that serves as a new idea that can be contrasted with other ideas and this dialectical process complexifies, the pattern of intelligibility, it emerges and develops and becomes more and more. So the irrationality, the failure to understand is being slowly transmuted, actualised into deeper patterns of understanding, deeper aspects of being. And then the idea is that this reaches a state in which a system of ideas emerges that grasps the dialectical process itself as found exemplified, Hegel believed, in his own philosophy - and this is the culmination; the state of Absolute Geist. And if we remember that for Hegel, “the Real is the Rational, the Rational is the Real”, what we get is that this development of the rationality in intelligibility of reality is also the development of reality itself. And so this co-development of meaning and being is Absolute spirit, Absolute mind. This is Hegel’s version of God. Secularised, non-religious God.
We saw how much Hegel understood his philosophy in religious terms, but that he was always pursuing that understanding by translating religious terms and religious experience into philosophical, conceptual structure, and he advocates for a new mythology, a mythology that is integrated with philosophy, a mythology of reason, which will be the last and greatest work of mankind, the culmination of all of history. I took you through an example of how understanding — the ability to make sense — passes into this moment of self-realisation in reason as mythology passes into philosophy; we did an example of that showing how Hegel secularised the Trinity in a historical process of the self-realisation of rationality. And in that sense, Hegel is the Thomas Aquinas of Protestantism. He was proposing this Grand Synthesis, this grand secularisation of the whole Hebraic, Christian idea of God at work in history and God working through human beings and in their Agapic processes to co-create the real future, the Utopic, but real future.
We took a look at the main criticisms of Hegel. We reminded ourselves of the criticisms made by Schopenhauer about [how] the Will To Live was missing. And then how Nietzsche takes this up and the Will To Power, and this whole centrality of the will. I took a look at the other great existential forerunner Kierkegaard and his criticism, basically using some of the terms we've developed, that Hegel has reduced everything to propositional, conceptual, knowing - he has left out the perspectival, participatory knowing; he has left out Anagoge; he's given us only epistemic transcendence; he hasn't given us existential, ethical self-transcendence. Personal transformation and transformative experience, that are necessary for returning to making deeper contact with reality, has been left out, and we noted that this is also consonant with the work of LA Paul (book shown on screen: Transformative Experience by LA Paul) about how we can't reason our way through transformative experiences that are so central to the cultivation of wisdom.
We then looked at another person who emphasised this lack of will and participation in Hegel’s system and this is the work of Carl Marx, and Marx’s great proposal — great and terrifying proposal — is that history is not driven by reason — the ‘man’ in Plato's system — but by the ‘monster’! And Marx is deeply influenced by Feuerbach and Feuerbach’s critique of religion as the projection of our own humanity and that religion is not the arena in which spirituality is working itself out! Religion is the projective distortion that distracts us from how we are the authors of spirituality in history; it is a vehicle of self alienation. So Marx takes the Feuerbachian critique and he rejects the theistic resonances within Hegel - the idealistic - and he says, “no, the dialectic is not a dialectic of ideas that's playing itself out religiously. It is a dialectic of economic forces that is playing itself out politically. The dialectic is not between ideas that are in contrast, but between socioeconomic ways of life - classes - that are in political conflict with each other, but are nevertheless systematically related”. And as that historical process of class conflict unfolds, this dialectic will work out all the self-contradictions in our socioeconomic system — our current one being capitalism, for example — until the contradictions are resolved in a socioeconomic state in which peace and freedom have been achieved, because all of them — the internal contradictions that drive the violence — will be resolved.
This is a completely secularised version of the Judaeo-Christian model of God working himself out in history to bring us to the promised land. Marx offers the participatory knowing that is missing in Hegel by proposing how we identify with our class, we identify with the struggle, and we participate in the Kairos, the turning of history, by engaging in revolution. And so the totalising, the totalitarian kind of ideology that Hegel is proposing is being wedded to the idea of violent political change within revolution. And so this is very, very powerful pseudo religious ideologies. So what started in Romanticism has now come to fruition in that we have the proposal of secularised political socioeconomic ideologies in conflict as the way in which spirit, and spirituality, is to be understood and pursued: Pseudo-religious ideologies.
Nationalism And Imperialism And Germany
We should mention a couple of other ones that of course are emerging at the same time, have been emerging since the disruption in the socioeconomic life of Europe following the black death. We've [-] already seen the rise of commercialism, but we're also going to see the conclusion of this idea that the political arena is the place in which ideas struggle with each other, and meaning is made. That the secularisation, of course, is going to be understood in terms of your participation, not necessarily in your class like you have in Marx, but in other ways in which people are going to declare their political identity. And this is nationalism. Nationalism is the idea that the Nation State can take the role, in many ways, that God has taken In the past. That the Nation State - and your patriotic devotion to it, your commitment to it, you're willing to sacrifice for it, your participation in its historical development that proceeds you and will follow you upon your death - is trying to do many of the things that religion had done for people in the past. And you get the fierce nationalism that is emerging in the 19th century around the same time as Marx and Nietzsche and Kierkegaard are doing their seminal work.
So Nationalism, when it is understood this way and when it is understood in terms of will, of course gets very clearly wedded to the emerging socioeconomic and technological power driven by the scientific and industrial revolutions in Europe. And that Nationalism very quickly gets wedded to Imperialism. So Nationalism and Imperialism become ways in which people have secular, pseudo-religious ideologies and identities that they pursue as a way of trying to fill the gap that has been vacated by the erosion of the Christian framework. Now a place in which this is all fiercely happening, in a really intensified way, is Germany. So all of this work, all of these people we are talking about — well, not Kierkegaard, but Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Marx — they're all in Germany! And again, Germany is the place of Luther where you get the first big change towards secularisation. Germany, as a country, is younger than Canada! It doesn't come into existence until, I believe, 1870 on the work of Bismarck - the Germans had been fragmented as a nation, they were not a Nation State. They had been fragmented for centuries, and through powerful “real politic”, meaning, you know, “ethics be damned”, Bismarck helps craft and unite the nation of Germany into a Nation State.
And so Nationalism is fierce in Germany because Germany has finally gone from being just a cultural leader to becoming a political entity with tremendous economic, industrial power and scientific production in its grasp. Nationalism is fierce and Germany sees itself in competition with the other Nation States that have got a head start in their Imperial self-promotion. Germany sees itself lagging behind France and England in the creation of World Empire. So Nationalism and Imperialism become paramount in Germany. And then disaster strikes!
And it's a disaster that actually reverberates around the world because this whole attempt to secularise progress — in terms of material advancement, scientific advancement, technological advancement, Nationalism, Imperialism — comes to a crashing disaster in the First World War in which all this machinery that was supposed to bring us to utopia, was seeming to take the place of God and our spiritual traditions, drenches Europe in [a] traumatic tidal wave of blood and destruction. An entire generation is decimated. So Europe itself is traumatised by this. But Germany is especially traumatised because it is defeated. All it’s national and Imperial and cultural ambitions are thwarted. And the victors, France and England especially, treat Germany very, very poorly. They weaken it, significantly, economically. They cripple it militarily. All of this has taken up a lot of careful history and I can't go into this in great detail. What we need to know is, let's gather this together: This is Germany and the state post-World one, the Weimar Republic, this state of…/ The collapse of German idealism. The thwarting of the dreams of Nationalism and Imperialism.
Germany, remember, is the country that has been — I don't know what the right word [is] — tainted by Luther's horrible antisemitism. The antisemitism we talked about, in his work “On the Jews and Their Lies”, in which he proposes a genocide; genocidal policies towards the Jews. We saw that Germany is the home of the Rhineland mystics. There's been an undercurrent running through Germany that helped fuel the Protestant Reformation, but there's this undercurrent of the mystical tradition. It comes to fruition, for example, in people like Böhme, who's a German Lutheran mystic, and a Protestant mystic - a very odd thing in some ways. But this undercurrent in Germany… it's very, Neoplatonic, very Gnostic. We've seen, as I said, the collapse of German idealism under the critique of the alternatives; by Marx and the existentialists. German idealism also seems to fail because of the critiques that are coming out of Positivism and a philosophical position that is wedded to the tremendous success of scientific materialism. Scientific materialism. Marxism is arising in Germany as a real threat.
We saw, of course, that Germany was the home of the powerful Romantic tradition. Goethe is one of the important generators of the Romantic tradition and we saw how Romanticism is also becoming decadent in Germany. We have the ongoing fragmentation caused by the Protestant Reformation. The Germans have developed an explicit form, the idea of Will To Power. It's this resentment, this undercurrent of Gnostic mythology, antisemitic religious tradition, the collapse of German idealism, leaving this philosophical vacuum. The collapse of the Romantic tradition also leaving philosophical vacuum. The thwarting of Nationalism and Imperialism. The advocacy of a Will To Power as the way in which human beings can recapture the lost self-transcendence. And of course that Nationalism and that antisemitism very quickly integrate with a racist interpretation of history to try and replace Hegel's idealistic interpretation of history, or Marx’s socioeconomic interpretation of history.
A Gnostic Nightmare
And all of this is drawn together in the autodidactic vortex of Hitler's mind. We talked about the dangers of a fragmented autodidactic approach to the Meaning Crisis. The Meaning crisis is being driven to a fever pitch in the Weimar Republic. And all of these forces are being spun in a romantic — and I mean that in a decadent sense — romantic, wilful, autodidactic manner. Reading Mein Kampf is a difficult thing to do. Not just because of the abhorrent moral stance if it's author, but because it verges on incoherence because of the attempt Hitler has of trying to articulate all of this personally. See — and this is not a coincidence, I think — Hitler is like Luther! Be careful of this analogy. I'm not claiming an identity. I'm not trying to insult all Lutherans. But what do I mean by that? Hitler sees his own personal struggle — “Mein Kampf”; “my struggle” — as representative of, emblematic, symbolic of all of Germany, and beyond that of all of Western civilisation! And he exemplifies this chaos and he articulates this weird mythology. You see you misunderstand Nazi-ism if you understand it only as a political system, if you understand it only, for example, as fascism or racism. It is those things! But you have to understand that the fascism and racism are actually in service of a Gnostic nightmare (Writes Gnostic Nightmare on the board).
I mean, you can feel the currents of “we have our ‘true self’, we're born with it…”, “Well, that's, you know, it's in our blood…” You can hear a decadent romanticism. And then you can hear the Gnostic, “here we are, we are actually a master race, but we are trapped within a worldwide conspiracy that is keeping us from knowing our divine heritage and only by opposing and trying to thwart the evil overlords can we come to our true, divine heritage as the master race that is in our blood and in the soil of our nation!” Do you see? it’s…/ And Luther's antisemitism is mixing up with a strand of Gnosticism that says, if you remember, the people that worship the Demiurge, the people who worship the God of the old Testament are the Jews! And this is all makes a weird twisted kind of sense. It's a Gnostic nightmare in which Hitler is crafting something that hangs between a religion, a totalitarian ideology and a personal mythology that he exemplifies and people are attracted to! [-] You shouldn't understand, and you can't respond to Nazi-ism as if it is just a political movement. You're not getting it!
It is a Pseudo-Religious Ideology! A totalitarian proposal that confuses and distorts myth, mysticism, nationalism, and fuses this with decadent romanticism, decadent Gnostic mythology, the will to power of Nietzsche. That's why the great propaganda film about the Nazis is actually entitled “Triumph of the will”. Triumph of the will! It's being linked to imperialistic racism. Do you see what I'm trying to show you? Nazi-ism is a tsunami of bullshit in which all of these currents that are emerging out of the collapse of the three orders are being spun by Hitler in order to try and give people a brutally powerful response to the exigent intensity of the meaning crisis in Weimar, Germany. And Hitler lucks out because that whole socio-cultural process is intensified by the socioeconomic collapse of the great depression which seems to vindicate his Gnostic nightmare. It seems to vindicate his dream of dealing with the collapse of meaning to a mythology of imperialistic, racist, twisted, decadent, romantic Gnosticism that has gathered together the shards of this whole historical process in the place in which they were often originating, which is Germany.
Nazism And Marxism Clash On The Eastern Front
So we have, now, these two great pseudo-religious ideologies: Marxism and Nazi-ism. And of course they are diametrically opposed to each other, and Hitler proposes his history of race against [the] communist proposal of the history of class. And these two pseudo-religious ideologies — that both propose a totalitarian ideology infused with mythologies of grasping and driving the Kairos of history towards the utopia of the promised land — they meet! They meet in the most titanic struggle, to use the term that both marks and Hitler use, the titanic struggle of the Eastern front in world war II. You see, the thing about many of us is we tend to understand World War II largely from the perspective of the British or the American or the Canadian viewpoint, because we're British or American or Canadian, Right? We forget that the Western front, while significant, and I do not want to in any way denigrate the tremendous sacrifice that people made or endured on the Western front, but the Western front is dwarfed by what's happening on the Eastern front.
1943. These two Titanic forces, and the historical socio-political, socioeconomic forces that they have marshalled, they meet at the battle of Kursk in 1943 (writes Kursk 1943 on the board) on the Eastern front. There's nothing like it anywhere else in World War II. There's nothing like it anywhere else in world history. This is the biggest battle ever. Literally! This battle involves millions of men, tens of thousands of pieces of equipment, thousands and thousands of tanks, thousands of airplanes. It goes from horizon to horizon. It's brutal and vicious. There's individual acts of tremendous brutality set within this huge technological machine of mass destruction.
The battle of Kursk ends, eventually, in a Russian victory. So militarily it spells the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime and the ascendance of the Soviet Union into the post World War II military superpower dominating Eastern Europe. So of course it has all of that historical significance, but the battle of Kursk points to, the literal…
[what do I want to say?] It's overwhelming! It's literally sort of beyond comprehension in terms of its size and its scope and the death and the sheer amount of technology and material. This also has an impact [-] on the genealogy of the Meaning Crisis. I want to point to what this (indicates Kursk on the board) leads to and then, of course, I've alluded to the cold war that comes after it. (Wipes the board clean.)
The Meta-Crisis Negative Feedback Loop
This tremendous struggle… It is symptomatic of the meaning crisis. What we have is a fixation at the level of beliefs. Both sides are fixated on belief systems, totalitarian ideologies and attempts to create secular alternatives to religion. Totalitarian systems of ideas that are supposed to explain history, reality and how we can achieve utopia, how we can recapture the Axial legacy? We have the complete politicalisation of the quest for meaning. Mythology is being confused with politics — ‘con-fused’ with politics — in powerful ways: The perspectival knowing has been reduced to your political viewpoint, the participatory knowing has been reduced to your political identification and it marshals tremendous physical resources and a Titanic struggle of wills - confrontation of ideologies. Now, what does all of that legacy mean for us? Because of course, eventually, the Soviet union also collapses! Well, this whole secularised political process of the pseudo-religious ideologies is not only symptomatic of the Meaning Crisis, it also contributes to the Meaning Crisis. It's not just a result, it causally feeds back into exacerbating the Meaning Crisis. Okay, How?
Well, we face the “Metacrisis” - Tomas Bjorkman has called it that and talked about it. This is the intertwining [of the] ecological, socioeconomic and spiritual crisis, existential crisis of our time, the mental health crises, et cetera. Now, the Metacrisis — in which the Meaning Crisis plays a significant role, is interdependent with these other crises — to address this, this is going to require comprehensive ch[ange]…/ We have to have comprehensive change in our consciousness (writes consciousness on the board), our cognition (writes cognition below consciousness) — because I've shown you the deep history of all of this — we have to have a comprehensive change in our consciousness, our cognition, our character (writes character below cognition) — where we cultivate virtue, wisdom, compassion self-transcendence — our culture (writes culture below character) — how our communities structure distributed cognition together; create systematic psycho-technologies. Now, the only thing in the past that has created systematic sets of psycho-technologies that transform cognition, consciousness, character, and culture in an inter-dependent way, is religion! That's the only thing that we've created that does this! (Writes Religion to the left of Cognition, Consciousness, Character and Culture).
A Religion That Is Not A Religion At All - The Big Dilemma
Now in the 19th and the 20th century, we tried to create alternatives to this: the pseudo-religious ideologies that have drenched the world in blood. (Wipes the board clean again.) So, what do we do? We need to respond to the Metacrisis (writes Metacrisis at the top of the board again), but we have been traumatised by the pseudo-religious ideologies (writes Traumatised by pseudo-religious ideologies below and to the right of Metacrisis). So that no longer seems like a viable option. One thing that some people are pursuing is a nostalgic attempt to return to religion (writes Nostalgic return to religion below and to the left of Metacrisis), an attempt to ignore all of this history. And of course this leads to various kinds of fundamentalism (writes fundamentalisms on the left), and I do include certain forms of atheism as being pseudo-religious fundamentalism - Read Chris Hedges book on this, I think he makes a good case for it. This of course can interact with how everything has been politicised (writes politicised below fundamentalism). When those interact (politicisation and fundamentalism), of course, we get the potential for terrorism (adds terrorism to the flow/list on the left). And so many people rightly are very doubtful of this (response flow/list on the left) as a response.
Many people find themselves stuck here (in the middle). They're post religious (writes post religious between ‘traumatised by…’ and ‘nostalgic return to…’). They reject this (left side), but they also reject this (right side), the pseudo religious ideologies. They're Post religious, and they find themselves, as we said, fragmented, autodidactic (lists both of these down the middle), and these ‘responses’ (writes responses below fragmented and autodidactic in the middle), of course, dangerously interact with this (politicisation/terrorism on the left), facilitated by things like social media and the internet, and also dangerously interact with these pseudo-religious ideologies (on the right). What I'm showing you here is [that] we seem to need a religion that cannot be any kind of religion at all.
We seem to need a religion that cannot be any kind of religion at all. We can't deal with the Meaning Crisis by pursuing pseudo-religious ideologies, [by] trying to deal with this as a political issue. This is why I steadfastly refuse to build an argument for this work that I'm trying to share with you as on the back of a political controversy, as a confrontation of political ideologies. Trying to frame or understand the Meaning Crisis as a struggle between political ideologies, [-] as a political process of using violence, potentially, or argument to change belief is to misrepresent the Meaning Crisis. “There is no political solution to our troubled evolution”, to quote The Police. We somehow need a religion that is not a religion at all. We need a god beyond all gods. For many people this seems, I think reasonably enough, to be a dilemma, to be a contradiction. And we are not just being stuck on the horns of a dilemma, we are being gored and ripped apart by the horns of the dilemma. So the clash, the adversarial clash of pseudo-religious ideologies, is not only symptomatic of the Meaning Crisis, it contributes to the Meaning Crisis by locking us into (indicates the framework on the board with a locking gesture), or at least contributing to, the way in which we are locked into this dilemma, this aspect, of the Meaning Crisis in which we need a religion that is not a religion at all.
Moving On From The History To The Cognitive Science
So I could continue on this history, I could talk about great works of literature that struggle with this dilemma. I think a fruitful way of understanding one of the great novels - I consider it one of the greatest and certainly one of my favourites - Moby Dick, is about this dilemma! I think you could make a good case for that! You could talk about different aspects of popular culture. You could see the zombie mythology as an articulation of this and aspects of the Meaning Crisis. But we'll come back to that because it's now time to move from the historical analysis; from understanding the genealogy; the collapse of the three orders - the Nomological, the Normative and the Narrative; the dilemma that emerges out of the attempt to deal with the collapse through the creation of pseudo-religious ideologies. It's time to pass from that historical analysis, because we could continue it. We could carry it, like I said, into an analysis of popular culture, important works of art and literature. We could talk about Dostoevsky or as I've mentioned, Melville or Conrad, and that, of course, is not in any way an exhaustive list.
But it's time, I think now, to turn to the other side of the argument that we need to make. We need to turn, now, to not a historical analysis of the genealogy of the meaning crisis, but a cognitive scientific analysis of the machinery, the cognitive machinery, of meaning making itself (wipes board clean). Because if we want to respond [to], awaken from, the Meaning Crisis in a way that does not enmesh us inexorably in this dilemma, that gives us a way of recovering the Axial legacy without trying to do that through utopic totalitarian ideologies, I propose that what we do is try to understand, using our best science, the machinery of meaning making and use that as a way of trying to build a theoretical structure for recovering and salvaging what we can of the Axial legacy. And hopefully that science — that science of cognition, that cognitive science — will also afford the engineering of new systematic sets of psycho-technologies, practices of self-transcendence, that can be coordinated with the science such that we are not just talking about responding to the meaning crisis and the historical forces therein, we are affording and providing people with the means to begin the process individually, and hopefully collectively, of creating systematic sets of psycho-technologies that bring back the connectedness lost in the three orders, and bring back the sapiential pursuit of self-transcendence.
What Is Cognitive Science? An Introduction
So, the way to begin that is to just talk about what cognitive science is, and of course, I mean, I'm a cognitive scientist! I teach cognitive science at the university of Toronto. I teach the introduction to cognitive science. I teach many courses. I teach a course on Buddhism and cognitive science - some of you may know about that. I teach upper level courses on the cognitive science of consciousness. And I teach also cognitive psychology, where I do a lot of work on this machinery of meaning making and the machinery, the cognitive machinery, at work in wisdom and self-transcendence. So what I want to do is present to you… [I mean, I'm laughing because like I have entire university courses in which I do this, but I want to try and present to you] or introduce to you ‘what is cognitive science’ - a particular vision of cognitive science because, of course, academics will disagree as to what cognitive science is and I'm going to present what cognitive science is for me, not in terms of my personal proclivities or tastes, but my argument for what I think is the best vision of what cognitive science should and can be doing. And I want to present that in a way that is deeply interrelated with the Meaning Crisis.
Cognitive science is a fairly recent discipline. It really emerges only in the late 70’s as an explicit academic discipline, the early 80’s, and it's born out of an important idea that we actually have multiple disciplines that are studying this thing called “Mind”, the organ of cognition (writes Mind in the top right corner of the board). [So, for example, there are some people…] Let's organise this way: We can talk about, sort of, levels of reality or levels of analysis - to keep Kant happy (writes ‘Levels of Reality/Analysis’ on the board, on the left of what will be two columns)! And then we can talk about different disciplines (writes ‘Disciplines’ on the board as the title of the right column), all dealing with this phenomenon (circles Mind). And I want to show you how, as the science is advancing, it's also contributing to the Meaning Crisis in the way it's fragmenting the sense of mind and attendant senses of identity and self.
So what do I mean? So you have the understanding of mind by understanding the brain (writes brain in the left column - levels of reality/analysis - beginning at the bottom). And people should be more careful when they criticise this. The brain is a terrifically complex and sophisticated thing. But what you do here is, you're going to try and understand the mind by studying the brain, studying patterns of neural activity. And of course the discipline that studies this is Neuroscience (writes Neuroscience, correspondingly, at the bottom of the right column), and they talk about entities like neurones, — Neuro-science (indicates the semantics of neuroscience by emphasising Neuro in the word on the board) — they talk about neurones, neural processes, they use FMRIs, perhaps EEG, new technologies for observing the brain's behaviour.
But of course, there's another discipline that is talking about the mind, cognition, at a different level. This is where you try to understand the mind in terms of information processing (writes Information Processing above Brain in the left column), and here you're not so much talking about neurones, you might be talking about neural networks, but you're talking more about programs, algorithms. You're talking about ways in which we could potentially make artificial intelligence, because computers and neural networks aren't made of neurones, they're made out of different kinds of matter. And so [-] we're not talking about the brain level - now we're talking about information processing and this is computer science (writes Computer Science above Neuroscience on the right), but especially in the project of Artificial Intelligence (adds ‘AI’ beside Computer Science on the board), especially — and we'll talk about what this means later — Artificial General Intelligence (adds AGI) where what I'm trying to do is not just make machines that can do sophisticated things (AI), but I'm trying to make machines that actually are cognitive agents (AGI). We're going to talk a lot about AI, and of course we know that AI has the potential to radically transform our self understanding and exacerbate the Meaning Crisis, and it is doing so already.
But of course, another way I study your mind is I study your behaviour (writes behaviour above Information Processing). Now notice here, I'm talking about…/ what do I do here (referencing Computer Science)? I don't cut out brains (now referencing Neuroscience) and slice them under microscopes or run FMRIs! I make simulations (back to referencing Computer Science), I actually create programs or neural networks or various combinations. So notice what I'm showing you: each discipline is directed to a different level (moving up from Brain) and it's using different language, and it's using different methods of investigation, and it's amassing different kinds of evidence. So what's the discipline that studies behaviour? That's Psychology (writes Psychology above Computer Science)! A discipline that I'm privileged to practice at the University of Toronto. And we talk about different things! I mean, psychologists sometimes talk about brains, and they sometimes talk about this (indicates Computer Science) because cognitive psychology is very influenced by cognitive [computer] science, but generally psychologists are trying to understand behaviour, and we talk about things like working memory and longterm memory. We talk about those kinds of things. And what we do is we use experimentation on human beings and we gathered statistical data, demographic data, et cetera, and we try to understand. So again, a different level using different language, different methods and different kinds of evidence.
Is that enough? No, there's another discipline that talks about mind… because of what I'm doing right now - I’m making noises come out of my face-hole and you understand my mind: language! Language seems to be a really important way in which mind operates and mind communicates. It's through language that minds are linked together. So you get language here (written on the left) and this of course is studied by linguistics (written on the right). And here you don't talk about working memory and long term memory. You might, if you link them together (indicates joining Linguistics and Psychology on the board) in psycho-linguistics — and notice how there's this constant wanting to link the levels together in these new hybrid disciplines — but generally, in linguistics, you talk about things like tree structures, you talk about transformational grammar, you do something like experiments, but it's more where you're testing people's judgments about whether or not a certain utterance is grammatically acceptable, [or] make sense. So again, different level, different language, different methods, different kinds of evidence.
And then, as I've said before, long before the internet networked computers together, Culture was networking minds together (writes Culture in the left column) because most of our problem solving is done with distributed cognition, and the discipline that studies that, of course, is anthropology (written in the right column) and anthropology uses a different method: it uses participant observation because — listen to that language — because culture is something you have to know in a participatory, knowing fashion; you have to go through the transformation of inculturation to know what a culture is, it uses participant observation, it generates ethnography.
So what am I showing you? I'm showing you that this term (mind) doesn't refer in a univocal fashion. It's equivocal. When I'm saying mind, it's not clear what I mean. Science is fragmenting what the word mind means (highlights all the different disciplines on the board), and therefore it's fragmenting You, who and what you are! Now here's the idea - we have a problem here! We'll come back [and talk] about this: if we don't get clear about how we can integrate these various different meanings of mind, we're going to engage in lots of equivocation (writes equivocation below mind in the top right of the board). I'll come back and talk about that. But here's the other idea: it's highly unlikely — and already we've seen that these different disciplines want to hybrid together — it's highly unlikely that these various levels are not causally impacting and constraining each other (draws a bunch of little arrows randomly connecting the different levels). In fact, it's highly plausible that these various levels causally interpenetrate and deeply influence each other. So we need to capture the causal interaction, between the levels.
How do we capture this causal interaction (left column) that is not being captured by any one of the individual disciplines (right)? Well, we follow that impulse to hybridisation, but we pursue something more. What we want to do is we want to get all of these disciplines talking to each other, not in the equivocal fashion, but in a meaningful fashion, talking to each other. We want a kind of theoretical integration because that integration of these different languages and ontologies for each one of these disciplines is how we're going to capture the missing causal interaction between the levels and avoid equivocating.
And it also holds this potential: because if we can get a discipline that does that (collectively indicates discipline column), then we will also not only have a theoretical scientific advance (collectively indicates levels column), we will start to be responding to the fragmentation of the mind (indicates mind). Now a discipline that helps to bridge between different ontologies, discourses, methods, ways of theorising, bringing evidence together… the discipline that does that is Philosophy (writes philosophy to the right of the Discipline column). So, what you want is you want some philosophical training in how discourses — and I mean this very deeply — how disciplines, ways of theorising, observing, studying reality, these different levels of the reality of the mind… You need a discipline that is capable of trying to bridge between those vocabularies, and that's Philosophy.
Now, if I take this philosophy — so I get training in this (indicates philosophy on the board) — and I get training in these (the various disciplines) and I start to try to bridge between the disciplines to avoid the equivocation and to facilitate grasping the causal interaction (between the levels)… Then I'm doing Cognitive Science (writes Cognitive Science on the board).
So in the next episode, we'll talk a lot more about the nature and practice of Cognitive Science. But I hope you can see, already, how it's going to be relevant to trying to understand the machinery of Meaning Making and the fragmentation of ourselves and our identities that is at work within the Scientific Revolution.
Thank you for your time and attention.
- END -
Episode 25 notes
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book shown on screen: Transformative Experience by LA Paul - Buy Here
Her account of transformative experience holds that part of the value of living authentically is to experience our lives and preferences in whatever ways they evolve. Using classic philosophical examples about the nature of consciousness, and drawing on recent work in normative decision theory, cognitive science, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind, Paul develops a rigorous account of transformative experience that sheds light on how we should understand real-world experience and our capacity to rationally map our subjective futures.
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