Concepts of consciousness — Part Two
The three main concepts of consciousness
author: Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: January 25, 2018
N.B. This text is the second in a series of three, and may not be fully understandable without reading first Part One.
A first look
As mentioned in part one of this chapter, there are three concepts of consciousness that clearly stand out: the first two because they form the foundation of large and influential knowledge systems, and the third because it offers a rich synthesis of the other two.
The first of the three is the physicalist concept that forms the foundation of almost all scientific research in the field of psychology.1 Even research that at first sight might seem to accept non-physical phenomena, tends to look at them from a physicalist standpoint and stresses that they exist in "the minds of others". In other words, the research is booked under cross-cultural, religious and spiritual studies which consider these alternate views interesting because of the information they provide about the people who have these views rather than about the objective reality that science otherwise deals with. The researcher himself is supposed to stay within the limits of the physicalist mainstream. To give two typical examples: if it is found that belief in God reduces the recovery time from illness , the next topic for research is how such beliefs can effect the physical body. It is definitely not how God could effect our health. If it is found that prayer works even if the patient does not know he is prayed for, the result is treated with utmost scepticism and at best provisionally accepted as an "anomalous phenomenon".
The second major concept of consciousness is the one that underlies the exclusive spirituality that has had, for over two millennia, a defining influence on the Indian civilisation and has been a source of inspiration and succour not only for India but for people all over the world. It holds that there is ultimately only one type of consciousness that is worth having (or rather being) and that this is a consciousness that is entirely transcendent of all content and intent, and as such completely pure, kaivalya.
While the exclusive physicalist and spiritual approaches have done invaluable work in their respective areas of specialization, by themselves they are incomplete. The third, integral spirituality, fully acknowledges and accepts what the other two have to contribute, adds what is missing in them, and then holds everything up into a higher synthesis. This makes its approach more complex and perhaps at times more hard to comprehend, but as Infinity in a Drop hopes to show, the extra effort is more than worth it, as the integration of these two powerful approaches to reality into one higher-order vision offers humanity something that may well prove to be indispensable for its future.
The integral approach has its origin again in India, where it predated the more exclusive spiritual traditions by several centuries if not millennia. Sri Aurobindo appears to be its main representative in modern times, and we'll base our description of this view on his work.
We will now look at these three approaches in more detail.
The idea that "matter" is the ultimate reality has been the mainstay of modern science. The great strength of this view is that it has cut radically through all forms of religious hypocrisy, dogmatism and superstition, and as a collective enterprise, it has produced an incredibly detailed and fast increasing knowledge of the physical domain. There is an ontological and an epistemological side to it.
At its extreme, ontological physicalism holds that the physical reality is all that exists. The great difficulty for ontological physicalism is how to account for experience, love, truth, beauty and all those other things that do not appear to be physical in any ordinary sense of the word. Much of this nonphysical stuff is in some way or another related to the subjectivity of consciousness, and physicalists tend to have a serious problem with consciousness. Watson bundles everything not directly physical away as "the trouble", Skinner claims it is "functionally irrelevant" , and David Chalmers (1995) calls the way consciousness arises out of matter as "the hard problem". Only few amongst the adherents to this theory bother to write about consciousness, and, if they do, they have different ways of explaining its (apparent) presence. The main divide is between those like Patricia Churchland and Daniel C. Dennett , who claim that the mind (inclusive its consciousness) is simply identical to the workings of the brain, and those like Searle who claim that consciousness is a different, higher order phenomenon that "emerges" out of material reality at a certain level of physical complexity.2 Churchland compares consciousness to heat, which, at least in her eyes, is nothing beyond the kinetic energy of moving molecules, and Searle compares it to fluidity, which does not exist in single water molecules but comes into being when you put enough of them together. Some, like Chalmers (1995), who (erroneously) claim to be philosophically neutral, still take it for granted that the brain "causes" consciousness, in the strong, exclusive sense that you cannot have consciousness unless you have a working brain (or at least a physically existing functional equivalent of a brain). There are many different positions within this camp, but there is none that has not been under attack. Churchland and Dennet have been accused of explaining consciousness away, and Searle stands accused by Dennett of confusing subjective illusion with objective reality.
Epistemological physicalism does not bother about deep metaphysical questions regarding the essential nature of reality, but argues that, whatever the world may be made of, the physical reality is all that we can know scientifically. Within psychology, classical behaviourism comes closest to this view: It looks at the human mind as a black box, about which nothing can be known, or needs to be known, as long as one knows the rules that connect purely physical input (the stimulus) to purely physical output (the response). Over time the serious difficulties with this view became more and more apparent: It is third-person and thus intrinsically manipulative; almost everything that really matters to people (love, truth, beauty, and so on) happens inside the black box where it remains outside the reach of behaviourist enquiry; it does not work in the simple, pragmatic sense that knowing the stimuli a person receives does not reliably predict his response except in the most trivial of laboratory situations; and finally it is not really possible because of the degree to which the researcher's questions and observations are determined by cultural influences. In spite of all this, classical behaviourism reigned in psychology for over 40 years, and though psychology has widened its horizon considerably since then, its influence is still far more pervasive than those who grew up within this tradition seem to realize.
For this text I will focus on a physicalist position that does not deny or hide consciousness but limits it to the type of consciousness humans have in the ordinary waking state. This position deserves to be called mainstream for three related reasons. First, it informs much if not most neurological and psychological consciousness research. Second, the vast majority of authors in the field who have a different position still take it as the "given view", from which they subsequently differentiate their own standpoint. Third, it is a view that is based on experiences and lines of thought that everybody can understand. One could well call it the "flat earth view of consciousness". This would of course not be politically correct, as the term is clearly negatively loaded, but as indicated earlier, it would be justified to name it in this manner because it places the ordinary human consciousness as presumptuously in the middle of the world of consciousness, as the flat earth view placed our physical existence in the middle of the physical cosmos. I am inclined to think that the presently mainstream flat earth view of consciousness stands squarely in the way of a deeper understanding of consciousness and human nature in general, and that as such it is a serious impediment to our collective progress if not survival. In contemporary Consciousness Studies, the most prominent protagonist of this view is John R. Searle. I will discuss this view in some more detail in Part Three of this chapter which has a tabular comparison of these three concepts of consciousness.
The defining characteristic of the "exclusive spirituality" concept is twofold: 1) that the ultimate reality is consciousness rather than matter, and 2) that the only state of consciousness really worth striving for is a state of "pure consciousness". In many ways the "matter" and "exclusive spirituality" camps are each other's mirror image. Here too, there is an ontological and an epistemological aspect. The two big ontological questions for those who stand for exclusive forms of spirituality are the status of the material world and the status of the individual self. Just as the extreme physicalist position holds that consciousness is at best a causally inactive epiphenomenon of physical processes, so the most extreme positions on the exclusive spirituality axis hold that the material world is nothing more than an illusionary imposition [FN with REF to Shankara's adhyāropa & mithya] on the absolute silence, emptiness and purity of the spirit. The great strength of the "exclusive spirituality" camp is the absolute beauty of the experience of pure consciousness, and the detailed and penetrating psychological insights this approach to reality has led to.
Exclusive spirituality as ontology plays hardly a role in the scientific mainstream where even strong idealism is considered "dead" or condemned as part of essentialism, the bête noir of the constructionists. In contemporary consciousness studies the phenomenon of pure consciousness is ignored by most, and its very possibility is denied on the one hand by Steven Katz (1978) and others who claim that all mental phenomena are socially determined, and, strangely enough, on the other hand by Carl G. Jung (1958), who holds that a state without a clearly distinguished subject and object is inherently unconscious. The possibility of this state has been defended vigorously, and I think rather effectively by Robert Forman (1990) who bases himself largely on Indian sources. In Indian philosophy it has many protagonists and can well be called mainstream. An overview has been given by Ramakrishna Rao in the Journal of Consciousness Studies (2005).
The idea of pure consciousness can be found throughout Indian thought, but perhaps most prominently in certain schools of Vedānta, Sāṁkhya and Buddhism. There are considerable differences between these three knowledge-systems in terms of their philosophy, but the origin of the concept of pure consciousness is almost certainly experiential rather than speculative, and, as we will see, in terms of experience these differences appear less insurmountable. There are many methods to arrive at a pure consciousness, but the cultivation of detachment is one of the most commonly practised (and conceptually most interesting) techniques. It works through a systematic withdrawal of one's consciousness from its involvement in one's thoughts, feelings and sensations. In the ordinary waking state there is a clear distinction between the subject inside, and the world as object outside. Typically, one identifies with the subject, which one feels as one's "self", but one does not identify with the world, which one experiences as "other". In ordinary life, the borderline between the two is continuously shifting. Sometimes people identify with entities far larger than their own body — e.g. their work, their possessions, their family, their country — and sometimes they look with a certain objectivity even at their own thoughts and feelings. Through yoga, it is possible to learn how to shift the border between self and world at will and on the path of detachment one moves the border gradually further inwards till absolutely everything, including all one's thoughts, feelings, and actions, are seen as part of outside nature, and only an absolutely pure, silent self, or not even that, remains on the inside.
Theoretically, one might expect that the result of shifting the borderline between world and self inwards would be an increasing sense of powerlessness, of shrinking, of dullness even, but in practice the opposite is true. As one dis-identifies more and more from one's small set of habitual thoughts, feelings, sensations, motives and actions, one experiences an increasing sense of an infinite, inalienable peace, which can grow into a positive sense of exhilaration, liberation, and, strange enough, of vastness. It is as if the wall between the world and oneself becomes thinner and one finds oneself extending beyond the borders of one's old egoic self into the rest of the world or even beyond it. When one sits on the beach and watches the sea stretch out in front of oneself, one can feel extremely tiny, but also extremely vast.
Ultimately, when one is completely free from all sense of possession and private, egoic limitations, there is a definite turning point and one can enter into a totally different type of consciousness that transcends, encompasses, and/or inhabits absolutely everything in complete freedom, joy, and perfection. Interestingly, this technique that starts from the naïve subject–object dualism which is typical for the ordinary waking consciousness, is not only used by dualist traditions like the Sāṁkhya which espouse a division between puruṣa (self) and prakṛti (nature), but equally by various monist schools like Vedānta. In the latter, the dualism is not accepted as an ultimate truth, but only as a pragmatic means to shift the apparent border between self and world either fully inside or outside till one arrives experientially at a monism of the spirit (one knows one's ātman to be one with Brahman). Even in the yoga of Patanjali, which starts with a dualist philosophy, one ends with a monist experience. To what extent and in what exact manner the material manifestation is part of this oneness has been a major issue throughout the Indian tradition, and over time many different answers have been proposed. Together they make a kind of gradient from māyāvādin traditions, which stress the illusionary nature of the manifestation, to pūrṇa Vedānta, which stresses that in the end both spirit and matter are manifestations of the inalienable oneness of saccidānanda.
Psychologically the main reason for all these differences seems to be that the exact flavour of the experience of the Absolute seems to depend at least to some degree on the line of approach and the theory in which one's practice is grounded. In its most classical form, one can experience, or rather become, absolute emptiness, entire freedom of form and content, in a total transcendence. One can also feel oneself become one with the undivided All, extending illimitably through space and time. One can even -- and this is perhaps the most mysterious and beautiful -- experience the infinite Presence, right here in the smallest of things. As the Taittirīya Upaniṣad (2.6) said (several thousands of years before Katz), "Whoever envisages it as the existence, becomes that existence, and whoever envisages it as the non-existence, becomes that non-existence." Interestingly, the exact form, which the experience or state of pure consciousness takes is not only influenced by the "tradition of origin", but also retains a certain colour or flavour according to the location in one's subtle body from where one begins one's exploration. If one goes inside, for example, on the level of the hara, near the solar plexus, as in some forms of Zen, the experience may give a predominant sense of power and solidity. If one does so at the level of the heart, it may retain an element of personhood, of love, of compassion. If one concentrates in a centre of consciousness just above the head, the sense of impersonality, vastness, formlessness may predominate. Accordingly, the Indian tradition holds that there is a self, a true being, puruṣa, on each level of consciousness. The common characteristic of all these states is that the distinction between the separated ego and the world is not there, while consciousness and bliss are very much there, even though consciousness is not anymore an awareness of "things" separate from one's "self". A fascinating aspect of all such experiences is that they leave one with a permanent sense of having seen, or rather been one with something that is much more true, beautiful, eternal than the ordinary reality. This is its strength, but it is also where the conceptual confusion starts.
Philosophically, these differences in the flavour of the experiences have led to diametrically opposed formulations. The most infamous of these contradictions is perhaps that the Sāṁkhya holds that there are many selves; Advaita Vedānta that there is only one self, and Buddhism that there is no self at all. Historically, differences like these have led within the Indian tradition to a welter of competing philosophies, schools and sects. Seeing these differences, some modern scholars, like Katz (1978) and, in a far more sophisticated fashion, Ferrer (2002, pp. 71-111), have come to the conclusion that the whole idea of a single perennial philosophy supporting the conceptual jungle is problematic. Though there is a point in this criticism, the complete denial of a perennial philosophy, or at least of a perennial reality, is not the full truth either. For the traditionalist within the Indian tradition, it is not valid because the most respected scriptures in the tradition, right from the Ṛg Veda and the older Upaniṣads to the Bhagavad Gitā, insist on an ultimate oneness supporting from behind all differences in appearance. For those who trust their own judgment and experience, the perplexity can be resolved by going beyond one's initial experience till one finds an inner place, described in the Gitā and several older texts, which goes beyond all the dualities of form and formless, personal and impersonal, etc. From the level where the differences between the different flavours of "pure consciousness" are still extremely real to one's experience, it is not impossible, for example, to rise to a place where one can flip effortlessly from the infinite peace and harmony of the cosmic self, to the utter freedom and delight of the non-self. The experiences are still different, but while the philosophies of ātman and anatta are each other's opposites, the underlying experiences are such close neighbours that one begins to get a feel of something indefinable beyond both.
Pure consciousness as tool for research
Irrespective of the type of ontology one might arrive at, from an epistemological standpoint the status of pure consciousness is interesting as it could open a way to unbiased self-observation. If the central realisation removes the ego from one's deepest sense of identity, there is at least at that level no longer any support for egocentric responses to the things that enter into one's consciousness, and this should in principle allow one to function as a free observing intelligence without any bias or axe to grind. In practice it is not as simple as this, however. Human nature is extremely complex and even when the central realisation and purity are there, distortions will continue to intrude into one's actions, interpretations and perhaps even into one's primary perception due to remnants of ego and residual impurities in the outer parts of one's nature. Fortunately, once the type and direction of these intrusions becomes known, one can compensate for them through a process that is quite similar to the manner in which physical defects in telescopes and other instruments can be corrected electronically after the observation is over.
The older Vedāntic and Buddhist schools talk about this process of purification in terms of karma and samskaras that still need to be exhausted even after realisation, and Sri Aurobindo speaks of the need to transform the entire inner and outer nature under the influence of ever higher levels of consciousness. But there is a difference between the two: Exhaustion of karma is sufficient for a passive realisation, in which one aims "not to be reborn" by attaining a state where nothing activates any response or initiative, but, as Sri Aurobindo (1991, pp. 98, 99) points out, a full transformation is needed if one aims at an active participation in a further evolution of the manifestation. Interestingly, it is also needed if all one wants is to use a free consciousness to take psychology further: After all, not only complex dynamic interventions, but even the simplest description of one's awareness and its contents is an active, creative process that requires a transformed instrument of expression to reach anything that could possibly be considered unbiased.
Even if we get rid of (or are able to compensate for) all possible sources of distortion, there are still two major issues to take into consideration before we can confidently declare that by cleaning up our own "inner instrument of knowledge" we can arrive at reliable subjective knowledge: The first is related to the different modes or types of puruṣa, and the other is their dynamism. I will come back to these in the section on the integral spiritual view.
In both Buddhist and post-Shankara Vedāntic thought there has been a tendency to consider the most extreme form of an entirely passive, pure consciousness — an absolute and permanent emptiness, silence, formlessness — as the highest type of consciousness. Philosophy tends to strive after the impersonal and the abstract, and in a certain sense, this is the legitimate extreme of both. But the question remains whether this is really the ultimate nature of consciousness. And this brings us to the third pole of our conceptual discussion of consciousness, integral spirituality.
In the debate about consciousness, the poles of materialism and exclusive spirituality have both their strengths and greatness, but both deny part of reality. As quoted earlier, Sri Aurobindo wrote almost a century ago:
In Europe and in India, respectively, the negation of the materialist and the refusal of the ascetic have sought to assert themselves as the sole truth and to dominate the conception of Life. In India, if the result has been a great heaping up of the treasures of the Spirit, — or of some of them, — it has also been a great bankruptcy of Life; in Europe, the fullness of riches and the triumphant mastery of this world's powers and possessions have progressed towards an equal bankruptcy in the things of the Spirit.
— LD, p.11
So how do we combine the deep love for the material world that has given the West its strength, with the lofty aspiration for the spirit that has given the Indian tradition its wisdom? The answer is certainly not in some half-baked compromise, with materialism guiding public life during working hours and religion private life after five and in the weekend. The real solution has to come from a deep integration based on a complete acceptance of both matter and spirit, and this may be possible only in a consciousness that goes beyond the dualities on which the ordinary mind insists. This may strike the materialist as way too far up in the sky, and some traditional spiritualists as preposterous, but as long as one's striving for the ultimate reality involves the slightest denial either of the spirit or of the dynamic, material pole of reality, it is still part of the world of dualities, and as such it misses the absolute truth which the integral Indian tradition pursues.
The absolute, impersonal emptiness of the pure consciousness described in the previous section plays a major role in almost all spiritual traditions, especially in India, and there are elements of it even in streams that are normally considered dualistic and theistic, but still, it is not the only form, aspect or type of consciousness, and the oldest and most authoritative Indian texts point to something else that at least in some respects can be seen as going beyond the purely passive form of "pure consciousness".
There are several forms of it. In the Gitā one finds, for example, the concept of the puruṣottama, the absolute "Person", the parāpuruṣa, the "Being" beyond dualities like those between saguṇa and nirguṇa, kṣara and akṣara (manifest and non-manifest, moving and unmoving). With a different stress, there is the idea of sarvam Brahma, the ultimate who is all, and more abstractly, the concept of saccidānanda, the absolute oneness of true being, consciousness and delight that is seen as the source of all there is in the universe. This absolute, all-inclusive integrality, expressed with such exquisite beauty throughout the major scriptures of the Indian tradition is so central to Indian thought that even the māyāvādin schools, who deny the reality of the physical world, have still, somewhere in the background, to accept that, ultimately, everything has its origin in Brahman. As we will see in more detail in the chapters on the application of Integral Indian psychology, it may well be this ability to link absolutely everything in existence up to the transcendent that gave India that unique "secret ingredient", which was responsible not only for its spiritual depth, but also for the legendary wealth that brought in the previous millennium so many plunderers to its shores.
As I alluded to in the description of the method of detachment, if one begins with excluding things in one's quest for purity, one risks remaing stuck in a limited understanding of reality, but one doesn't need to. It is also possible to persist in one's search till one reaches — at the other end of absolute emptiness — another space and time, a "world" which includes absolutely everything, while yet avoiding the usual egoic limitations and distortions. There are two interesting corollaries of the integral position one can arrive at in this manner: the first is that consciousness must be everywhere, even in seemingly unconscious matter; the second that consciousness cannot be limited to awareness, but that it must also have power.
Consciousness in Matter
For most of the twentieth century, physicalist monism was so taken for granted that it created quite a stir when a young scholar in a poster presentation[FN with REF] showed that most famous Western philosophers in the past had held that consciousness existed throughout creation, even in physical things. Though "panpsychism", as this position called, is rare amongst contemporary philosophers of science, it used to be common enough. The consciousness and knowledge embedded in physical nature can, of course, not be of the same type as the one we find in the human mind, but the fabulous beauty, order and lawfulness of matter does suggest that there must be at least some kind of built-in intelligence, some kind of subconscious know-how supporting the world.3 To recognize the inner structure of matter as a form of consciousness, one might look at the knowledge-constituent of matter as a subconscious habit of form and function, a tendency to act in harmony with the basic dharma4 of the physical entity in question: an electron needs to “know” how to behave like an electron, a hydrogen molecule how to behave like a hydrogen molecule, a rock like a rock, and a river like a river.
There are two important aspects to this. The first one is that this know-how involves an element of power: it implies a capacity to act in one specific manner. I will discuss this in the next section on Consciousness as Power.
The second is that the information content needed to act is not as small as it may appear at first sight. As matter makes no mistakes, every part of it needs to have the “know-how” required to act perfectly according to the laws that guide its movement. As the laws of physics are supposed to be interrelated and derivable from each other, this might well mean that in some extremely involved way, it has to be aware of all the laws that human physics tries to discover. What is more, as matter’s movements are influenced, to whatever small degree, by everything else that occurs in the universe, each part has to be perfectly aware, in however minute a measure and implicit a manner, of everything else that is going on. Together this amounts to a special kind of “subconscient omniscience” which in a fully automatic fashion self-limits itself to the very simple set of dumb but perfect actions that are proper to this little part of reality. In the chapters on knowledge we'll discuss how this is related to Sri Aurobindo's claims that all human knowledge is ultimately based on a deep, intuitive inner knowledge, and that it is possible to cultivate intuition to such an extent that it can take over from all ordinary mental functions and become one’s normal way of knowing reality. As we will see there, he argues that the information that comes to us through our sense organs is far too imperfect to lead to the detailed and well-organised knowledge that we humans have about reality, and that once one is sufficiently clear inside to see what actually happens when one perceives something, one can see that sense-input and logical thinking don’t do much more than trigger, evoke and give form to an already existing inner knowledge.
Consciousness as power
The second essential corollary of the integral view of consciousness is that consciousness has power. If we combine the idea that everything in this wondrous universe is a manifestation of consciousness and delight with the idea that Cit is also Cit-Śakti, that Consciousness is also Conscious-force, then we open the road to a genuinely integral understanding of reality, and with that, to infinite possibilities of further development. Realizing in one's direct personal experience the absolute purity of spirit in its aspect of passivity, of receptivity, is presently well within human reach. It is not easy but perfectly doable as it does not necessitate a complete transformation of one's nature: one's nature has only to get out of the way so that one can receive the splendours of the Infinite in the silence that one is in one's innermost essence. But if this world is not an illusion, but a progressive manifestation of the Divine; if the kṣara is as true as the akṣara, if the dynamic becoming is as much divine as the static being, if the absolute Delight manifests itself dynamically as pure Love, then it must be possible to identify with the dynamic as well as with the passive consciousness of the Divine. Clearly this is infinitely more difficult than the purely passive identification, as it needs for its manifestation not only a liberated Self, but also, and this is far more difficult to attain, a perfect, ego-free, "divinized" nature. If we accept this as our ultimate aim and destiny, then the spiritual evolution of humanity has only just begun. Traditional mokṣa is then not more than an essential pre-condition, a first step towards the far greater dynamic realizations of the future that will transform the whole of life into a powerful, dynamic expression of the truth of the spirit.
Just as one may accept the dualism of Sāṁkhya not as a statement of the ultimate reality, but as a necessary step on the way to a higher realization, so also the absolute oneness of the Advaitin and the śūnya of the Buddhist may have to be accepted not as the ultimate reality but as an essential step towards still greater realizations that are hinted at in India's most ancient texts, but that for their full realization are still awaiting the future. The oldest and perhaps most powerful expression of this truth one finds in the Vedic concept of integrality, pūrṇa, which stems from the more ancient and heroic period in Indian history when the highest ideal had not degenerated into the wish "not to be reborn" but had still the simple strength of "True Being, Light, and Immortality". It would be wonderful if the coming together of the materialist intellect of Europe and the spiritual intellect of India — after so many long centuries in which they developed separately — is a sign that the manifestation in matter of the Vedic concept of integrality, pūrṇa has finally become a realistic possibility.
In the field of knowledge this might lead to developments compared to which the immense achievements of the physical sciences we are now witnessing may just be the first beginnings:
The first necessity is to know the One, to be in possession of the divine Existence; afterwards we can have all the knowledge, joy & power for action that is intended for our souls, — for He being known all is known, tasmin vijnate sarvam vijnatam, not at once by any miraculous revelation, but by a progressive illumination or rather an application of the single necessary illumination to God's multiplicity in manifestation, by the movement of the mahat & the bhuma, not working from petty details to the whole, but from the knowledge of the one to the knowledge of relation & circumstance, by a process of knowledge that is sovereign & free, not painful, struggling & bound. This is the central truth of Veda & Upanishad & the process by which they have been revealed to men.
— KU, p. 429
1. Though there are perhaps not that many scientists who fully adhere to this worldview, especially not for the conduct of their private lives, research proposals and articles that include elements that do not fit within the physicalist paradigm tend to encounter substantial resistance and require extra effort that is not needed for research that fits within the confines of physicalism. Somewhat strangely this is true even for research following the constructionist paradigm, which, in theory, is ontology independent: in practice, the majority of those working in the constructionist field also tend to take the physicalist view of reality for granted.
2. In ordinary English, emergence means the (re-)appearance of something that was hidden. In the philosophy of science emergence is used sometimes in this limited sense, which is known as "weak emergence", but emergence is also used to describe the appearance of something in a whole that was not there in the parts. Searle uses emergence in this "strong" sense. He agrees that consciousness is of a different order than matter but seems to argue that it appears out of nowhere. The two examples he uses to support his view, fluidity and higher order patterns in the game of life, are both poorly chosen though for different reasons. The laws of fluid mechanics can be derived mathematically from the properties of the molecules making up the fluids concerned. In fact, fluidity is a standard example in support of strong physicalist reductionism, to which Searle is opposed. In the game of life, the appearance of higher order structures (like lines and triangles) again proves the opposite of what Searle thinks. The higher order phenomena do not actually appear within the world of the game itself, as the automata that make up the game have no way to detect them. They occur only in the minds of human observers who recognise them because they have these patterns already as pre-existent structures within their subjective world. It is hard to believe that anyone takes "strong emergence" serious as it is not a valid explanatory category for the simple reason that it could be used to "explain" absolutely anything we don't understand. How far would science have come if it had accepted that mice "emerge" out of old rags or that the sun "emerges" above the eastern horizon in the morning?
3. This is not intended to support theories of “intelligent design”; there are too many difficulties with these theories as generally formulated. All I’m arguing here is that the laws of science are not just human inventions, but that they have some sort of ontological, though not gross-physical, reality. In the homely Vedic image, knowledge and stuff are both real and as inseparable as the warp and woof of a fabric (S.P. Singh, 2004, pp. 99, 100). Though metaphorical, this can hardly be said to conflict with either common sense or the findings of science.
4. Dharma, Sanskrit: law of right action
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