Here I part ways with Rovelli

© Sidney Harris, The American Scientist, 1977. 
My endorsement, promotion and defense of physicist Carlo Rovelli's Relational Interpretation of quantum mechanics has been very overt and public for years, on Scientific American and other publications. I have also never hid my personal liking and admiration for Rovelli as a scholar and a person: I find him exceptionally thoughtful and open, a bit of a renaissance man, something we so thoroughly miss in a world that often takes its cues from immature nerds passing for intellectual wizards—incomplete human beings who have very narrow relationships with life and themselves, but who happen to excel in fashionable niches or be good at rhetoric.

None of that has changed. I still hold Rovelli in the highest regard and have profound respect for him and his output. But a consequence of this very respect is that I cannot overlook recent output of his with which I also profoundly disagree. The latter is what this post is about. I have made criticisms of Rovelli's latest commitment to certain philosophical ideas in recent interviews and discussions, so I think it is appropriate that I summarize those criticisms in one go-to place. Unlike those about the work of other people I have criticized in this blog, the assessment below—I insist—comes from a place of respect and admiration, not of scorn or patronization.

Rovelli and I are in full agreement when it comes to our view of the nature of physical reality: there is no absolute world of tables and chairs with defined mass, position, momentum, etc., out there, but instead an entirely relational world. The observable properties of all physical systems are entirely relative to the particular vantage point of the observation. Measurement doesn't merely reveal what the properties of a physical system already were immediately prior to the measurement, but brings those properties into existence. In summary, the physical world has no standalone reality. Both Rovelli and I concur that this is the inevitable conclusion from quantum theory and the overwhelming experimental confirmation of its predictions over the past 42 years or so. (Unless, of course, one believes in a de facto infinitude of real physical universes popping up into existence every de facto infinitesimal fraction of a moment, for which we have precisely zero empirical evidence; I believe both Rovelli and I dismiss this alternative as little more than silly fantasy.)

In his original Relational Quantum Mechanics paper of 1996, Rovelli defends the conclusions of quantum mechanics discussed above, but explicitly and deliberately refrains from exploring their philosophical implications. I, on the other hand, am on record—both the popular and academic records—deriving precisely those implications. In my view, if the physical world has no standalone reality and is entirely relational, then there necessarily is a deeper, by definition non-physical but absolute (in the sense of not being relative) layer of reality that grounds the physical world, and of which the physical world is but a measurement image akin to a set of dials. I've known for a while now that Rovelli isn't comfortable with this conclusion of mine, but neither did I expect or require him—as someone approaching the problem from an eminently scientific perspective—to agree with my philosophical exploration of the topic.

Recently, however, Rovelli seems to have gone all the way into philosophical territory. Am I bothered that a scientist is making an incursion into philosophy? Absolutely not! Some scientists do philosophy while believing that they are doing science; that kind of cluelessness is dangerous and reprehensible, but that's not Rovelli's case at all. Perhaps atypically amongst scientists, Rovelli has clarity regarding the difference between science and philosophy and displays great care and thoughtfulness in treading on the latter. So I think it is fantastic that he is daring to do so and wholeheartedly welcome his foray. At the same time, entering philosophy territory does—of course—expose him to hopefully healthy and constructive criticism. This is my intent with the present post.

What Rovelli seems to be now saying is that, although the physical world is constituted of no more than relationships, there is no underlying, non-physical world to ground those relationships. This is problematic for a number of reasons. For one, it immediately runs into infinite regress: if the things that are in relationship are themselves meta-relationships, then those meta-relationships must be constituted by meta-things engaging in relationship. But wait, those meta-things are themselves meta-meta-relationships... You see the point. It's turtles... err, relationships all the way down.

This is surely bad enough, but it isn't the worst part. The worst is this: to speak of pure relationships without non-relational entities to constitute and ground those relationships is literally meaningless, in a semantic sense; there is just no discernible meaning pointed to by the words in this claim, even though the claim itself can be articulated in language. The issue here is analogous to the Cheshire Cat's grin, which stays behind after the Cheshire Cat disappears: there is no meaning in this statement, even though Lewis Carroll was able to articulate it in language, to great effect.

Let me try to illustrate this with an example: movement is a prime instance of a relational phenomenon, one which Rovelli himself uses in his original 1996 paper. Movement, indeed, is always relative: if you are sitting inside a high-speed train, relative to you the train is not moving; but relative to someone standing on a platform, the train is moving at high speed. Movement is relational. With this example in mind, Rovelli essentially maintains that the entire physical world is like movement; it's not made of things with standalone reality, but of relationships. Up until this point I agree wholeheartedly with him, for the theoretical and experimental results simply prove this to be the case. However, Rovelli now proceeds to deny that there is anything that moves. So we end up with a world in which everything is movement but there is nothing that moves. Is this coherent? Does this even have any meaning, in a semantic sense, beyond the words themselves?

How does Rovelli justify this rather surprising proposition? He cites 3rd-century Indian mystic Nāgārjuna, interpreting the latter's writings to mean that there is no ultimate essence to reality except emptiness. So the world is made of movement, although there is nothing that moves, because ultimately the world is empty; it's made of nothing. This surely would sound great in a late-romantic poetry book, but is it reasonable when taken literally? Does it make any explicit sense? After all, when I look around I do see a lot going on. That I deny naive realism doesn't entail or imply that I deny the obvious existence of something.

Although I think and work mostly under the value system of the Western Enlightenment—which takes objective, explicit, unambiguous, logically consistent, conceptually clear, empirically substantiated reasoning to be the reliable path to truth—I am known to admire Indian and Eastern philosophy in general as well. They embody a different avenue to knowledge: that of meditative introspection and self-inquiry, a subjective—as opposed to objective—path of exploration. Kierkegaard referred to the exponents of these two paths as 'geniuses' and 'apostles,' respectively, highlighting their differences.

Personally, I think both paths have their merits and are complementary. I myself have adopted both paths in different works. Although the majority of my output is based on objective reasoning and evidence, I've treaded the subjective path in e.g. my book, More Than Allegory. However, I don't think it is valid to mix and match these paths in the course of defending any particular point of view, because doing so is blatantly inconsistent; it's a way to indulge in confirmation bias. Allow me to elaborate.

Rovelli takes a purely objective path to the conclusion that the physical world is entirely relational. He uses explicit, conceptually clear logical reasoning and empirical evidence to do so. He goes where this reasoning and evidence take him, all the way until a point where the inevitable implication is something he doesn't seem to like: that there must be a deeper, non-physical and non-relational layer to reality, which grounds the relationships that constitute the physical world, giving semantic meaning to the very word 'relationship.' From that point on, Rovelli arbitrarily abandons all post-Enlightenment epistemic values and switches to a vague, ambiguous, hand-waving, second-hand appeal to the mystical insights of someone who is no longer around to clarify what he meant. Never mind that the result is a peculiar Frankenstein monster, neither objective nor subjective; that Rovelli managed to avoid a conclusion he doesn't like—he describes how relieved he was upon reading Nāgārjuna, because the latter freed him from the pressure of having to find out what the underlying essence of reality is—seems satisfactory to him.

It's far from satisfactory to me. The paths of the 'genius' and the 'apostle' are complementary in the sense that, when both are applied in an internally consistent manner and lead to the same conclusion, we get a particularly satisfying kind of reassurance that we are on to something. But switching between these two modes in the course of making a point is entirely akin to changing the rules of the game while it's being played: it's cheating. When Rovelli does this, he puts his subjective preferences ahead of an objective inquiry into nature, and abandons the post-Enlightenment epistemic values that he has been known to champion. We get Rovelli the mystic, the apostle, dressed in a lab coat. This is not okay, not only because it isn't honest—and by this I don't mean that Rovelli is being malicious or deliberately deceptive, just that he seems to be deceiving himself and inadvertently misleading his audience, which has come to expect level-headed objectivity from him—but also because it leads to a literally meaningless conclusion: that the world is made entirely of movement, although there supposedly is nothing that moves.

Not only is it internally inconsistent to mix and match objective and introspective modes, introspective insights are also well-known to be largely ineffable. Therefore, when put to words, they almost invariably fail to capture the salient nuances of the intended point. That's why whole schools of thought in the East (and some in the West) have entirely given up on trying to explain what reality is. Instead, their writings are what Peter Kingsley refers to as forms of 'Μῆτις' (Mêtis) or 'incantation': they are meant not to describe reality, but to trick you into seeing it for yourself; to make you 'trip over' your own conceptual narratives and finally see through them. In weaving these incantations, sages will freely and liberally use contradiction, cognitive dissonance, metaphor, sleight of hand, shocking absurdities pronounced with a solemn face, deliberate inconsistencies, lies and, sure enough, even true statements mixed in; only the desired effect counts (Nisargadatta Maharaj, the Eastern sage I admire the most, contradicts himself several times in each page of I Am That). And I believe this is all epistemically valid because it is entirely consistent with the stated goals. The problem only arises when one fishes out a particular statement from the mystical writings of someone else, interprets it literally—as if it had been written by an 18th-century European philosopher in the finest Apollonian tradition, as opposed to a 3rd-century Indian sage—and then uses it as an arbitrary bridge to change the course of what is otherwise meant as an objective argument. This just doesn't work and should be viewed with at least great suspicion.

Rovelli has been one of the greatest exponents of the post-Enlightenment epistemic values in the 21st century. I regret that he now seems to be so breezily departing from those very values, so as to acquiesce to his own subjective preferences about what nature should or should not be. Subjective, introspective paths of inquiry may even be the royal road to truth, but their value rests precisely in direct, personal insight. I would find it laudable if Rovelli decided to engage in self-inquiry and the whole arsenal of meditative techniques, in order to directly experience the nature of reality for himself; he might then find out that that 'emptiness' is mind at rest, a subject without objects, pregnant with the potential for every conceivable internal relationship. But fishing out statements from someone else's introspective insights is consistent neither with objective reasoning nor with the schools of direct knowing, for the words of the latter were never intended to be used in this manner (again, they were meant as 'incantations,' not descriptions). Instead, it's a disservice to both and dilutes the credibility of the otherwise priceless legacy Carlo Rovelli has been methodically building for decades.
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82 comments:

  1. Hi Bernardo! Are you familiar with Rovelli's take on what consciousness is? I think he is an emergentist in that sense, but I'm not sure. I ask because I like his thoughts on QM and it's always seemed to me that his views are consistent with an idealist position, but when looking for his opinions on the nature of consciousness, I remember having found some ibterviews where he attributes qualia to brain activity in a hardcore materialistic way. Greetings and admiration from an Argentinian fan who loves your work.

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  2. I love the first paragraph, are certain computer nerds writing you private emails again insulting you and your chopraesque claque?

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    1. Mark - Surely Bernardo’s experience and accomplishments in academia and technology, including PhDs in computer science and philosophy, and the work at CERN, provide a solid basis for his frankness in expressing the views you refer to.

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  3. I am literally just now reading Peter Kingsley based on your recommendation Bernardo. At the same time I am currently listening to the audiobook version of Helgoland, Carlos latest work where I this very morning struggled to understand the concept of the “dance of three” (because of the infinite regress you mentioned). This article is very welcome and a joy to read. For me personally, it couldn’t have appeared at a more appropriate time to help me iron out my thoughts!

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  4. Are you familiar with Ilya Prigogine's approach to q.m. based on 'large poincare systems.' It is a kind of 'neo-realism'. He outlines it in 'The End of Certainty.'
    Isabelle Stengers gives a good summary and overview of these question in 'Cosmopolitics II'. She refers to Nancy Cartwright's work 'the measurement problem is an artefact of mathematics.'

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  5. I get Bernardo's point; i.e., inter alia, that "we end up with a world in which everything is movement but there is nothing that moves." I wonder if a simple hyphen would have helped to heal the intellectual wound--had Rovelli spoken of no-thing rather than nothing?

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  6. Bernardo:

    If it is impossible for the experienced world not to exist (which I suspect to be the case) then reality must be essentially relational rather than independently, objectively true. Indeed, the idea of independent objective truth becomes incoherent, because there could be no such thing as "pure consciousness" in itself. Consciousness thus becomes a dialectic between a principle that "tends to awareness" and the projected phenomena which actually (and necessarily) complete its ability to be, in fact, aware. I'm not sure if this is what Rovelli is saying, but if he is, then I think that is essentially correct. The idea of "pure consciousness" doesn't really make any sense.

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    1. :-)))
      'Pure consciousness' is all you've ever had. Everything 'else' has been an abstraction in your consciousness. That people don't see this and, like you, are in fact convinced of the opposite, is one of the greatest psychological mysteries in the history of thought.

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    2. Hi Bernardo. I'm not an enemy. I agree with you on many things and indeed held such a position long before I ever heard of you. And you have succeeded in propagating them with greater rigor and success than I can probably be bothered doing. We had a friendly clash of swords about this one time before, on the old Skeptiko forum, but you will unlikely remember. I was Kai on that forum, and marineboy on the near death forums, and I am very familiar with these topics.

      Like I say, I agree with you on most things. But I differ on a couple of things...this is one of them and also the thing with "alters"...there's no real evidence that DID alters are simultaneous....but I'll leave that for another day.

      You say that "pure conscious is all I've ever had" but in fact, that is only true if we take consciousness to be relational, something after the fashion I described it above. Indeed, all that I have ever had, and all that you have ever had too, is such relational consciousness, because without it there would be nothing to prehend. Consciousness prehending itself without projections isn't coherent, which is exactly my point. This relational dialectic then becomes the necessary "ground of being" because existence cannot (stably) abide without it.

      As soon as you lose this relational dialectic, you lose consciousness, as we do every night in sleep. I am not conscious during sleep unless I am dreaming (ie throwing internalized dialectic phenomena which again lift the ground from pre-awareness to awareness).

      An image or metaphor might help here. Imagine the ground of being to be "mirror stuff", setting aside the literal absurdity of that. Mirror stuff can only become a mirror. However, it is not *actually* a mirror until it has something to reflect (dialectic). This is what I am saying consciousness is, and I'd have to say that I'm pretty confident that I am correct on this :)

      The mirror analogy isn't perfect. Mirrors don't create the objects they reflect, but I am hoping this won't reduce to pedantics. It captures the spirit of the situation correctly, I think. Another metaphor (provided we acknowledge its limitations as just that) a human blastula can become a fully grown human...indeed, that's all it become if its destiny completes itself, but once again it isn't *actually* a fully fledged human until that happens. It can't become anything else...a rhinoceros say, or an oak tree, or a dinner plate. There is only the human that it can become.

      Likewise, when I lapse out of consciousness I lapse back into "consciousness in waiting" which is what the ground of being would be without the world. And this, imo, is why the world has to exist.

      So yes, everything is consciousness, but there is no plenum-like "pure consciousness". Consciousness is made up of the two components I have described: an ontic principle that is an inevitability towards awareness, and projections from that principle which allow it to apprehend itself. Strictly speaking "existence" is irreducibly the play of these two elements. Sometimes people try to argue that a nondialectic consciousness can exist, but even in mystical experiences there is, of necessity, an implicit relation set up, so I don't think so. Happy to discuss this more if you want. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

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    3. I could imagine that we might be unable to get around the fact that even 'Pure consciousness' is a conception somewhat...

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    4. Sorry I'm so late to this interesting thread!

      I'd just like to add that, at least since the Upanishads, Indian philosophy has claimed that deep/dreamless sleep is another mode of consciousness and indeed represents its most basic form and the ground of all being (Brahman).

      More recently, philosopher Evan Thompson has argued that "there is no clear line of consciousness between dreaming and deep sleep" and "There’s complicated experiential or conscious activity that occurs throughout the night in all the different stages of sleep, including deep sleep." (source: https://qz.com/india/852486/cognitive-science-backs-up-the-ancient-indian-philosophy-that-were-conscious-even-in-deep-sleep/)

      That much is an empirical & theoretical argument from which traditional Vedic or Buddhist ontologies of 'pure' or 'luminous' consciousness (and their Western counterparts) do not necessarily follow (although it helps them). But is that "complicated experiential or conscious activity" relational from the subject's perspective (as opposed to that of an awake observer)? or are we just defining 'consciousness' from the outset as relational so as to exclude deep sleep?

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  7. Super precisions !!! Today I "attack" your course part VII (I to VI : done !!)

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  8. Thank you for everything that you do Bernardo. It's quite revolutionary. It impacted a lot of lives, I can tell you that from the first hand.

    Have you heard of David Deutsch perhaps, or read any of his books?

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  9. It is really quite a strange move to go from one type of aproach to another once the possibility of a non-physical reality is discussed. Specially strange if he read Nagarjuna, for the sage did try to use arguments against metaphysical positions, incluiding the existence of substances(where you guys disagree). If he wanted to continue in the more apollinian aproach, the sage that he quotes already had shown a way to do it: show contradictions on the metaphysical positions.

    And, since we are talking about this: i remember a old video of yours, Bernardo, where you defend that our concept of casuality is but a construct that can't really refers to Mind-At-Large. I think that you used as a analogy a snake being seen from a hole with first its head being seen and after its body, creating the error that the head causes the body because it is seem first. Would that indeed be your view?

    Because if so, one could use that to argue that our conceptual diference between substance(in this case, Mind-At-Large) and acident(relations) is also illusory outside our common experience, so there is no need to postulate a reality outside our immediate sense experience. How would you respond?

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  10. Dear Bernardo,
    there is no contemporary philosopher who I am more grateful to than you. Almost every word you utter in almost all occasions rings true to my heart and intellect. And yet I think and feel, that your take on metaphysics might not be the last page of the story.
    I could well imagine that talking of subject and object only makes sense in a relational framework and that the non-relational ontological primary cannot be understood in these terms. I could imagine, that Rovelli´s stance would ultimately end up in some sort of non-substance process ontology where the ontological primary cannot be made sense of in terms of logic, thinking and language. You might only be able to state, “it is” and not even that. Isness. You could only be it but not say anything about it. No-thing would quite be a suitable description of that.
    An ontology however that would spin off from a self-referential strange-looping Being as the ontological primary would be even more parsimonious than a Mind at Large that requires being and awareness in its base. And if an ontology that considers the whole of existence as a non-substantial dissociative process of the ontological base could take all of physics, chemistry and biology as the science of that dissociative process, it might even be explanatory more powerful. I could conceive that exsistence actually is an infinite regress in action.
    An incomprehensible ontological base that cannot even be thought of might not be satisfactory to the intellect. But I would suggest sitting with this fundamental discomfort and let it sink in deeply. Otherwise you might fall prey to corner yourself in a place ten years from now that would remind me of the place where materialist corner themselves today. Your intellectual and social identity is getting intertwined with Idealism after all.
    I could imagine that the whole philosophical enterprise in search for a substance is based on flawed assumptions right from the start. It could be argued that an idealistic approach is swinging the pendulum all the way to the other side. And that balance might be found in a neither-nor and both-and middle ground that gives rise to it all.

    Maybe all of what you are saying is true and simply your conception of Mind at Large has not quite reached the bottom of truth which will never be found…

    Utmost respectful greetings
    Johannes

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    1. Thank you, this is exactly my understanding of where Nagarjuna is going.

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    2. Or perhaps Bernardo has just taken a side in a modern version of Madhyamaka vs. Yogacara. That's alright. After all, Yogacara is a later development than Madhyamaka and may have been partially a reaction to it not so unlike Bernardo's reaction to Rovelli!

      To quote Yogacara figure Vasubandhu:

      "All is only mind, consciousness; there exist only representations, mental creations, to which no external object corresponds."

      That's not exactly how I understand Bernardo's idealism, whereby representations represent other mental events (e.g. in other finite minds or in Mind at Large), but on its face it's appears a lot closer than Nagarjuna or Rovelli!

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  11. Dear Dr. Kastrup,

    Your post was very interesting to me, so I wrote a comment, which turned to be a bit long, so I send it as three complementary comments.

    When you say that “the observable properties of all physical systems are entirely relative to the particular vantage point of the observation”. But then again, what is relative? – the ‘objects’ of observation (the airplane in the sky or just near me; the person I converse with) or the measurements (They are only if I – the measurer – am), which are two different kinds of “relationality”. Quantum mechanics demonstrates that the later are relational. But are the former also? The airplane in the sky and near me is always the same airplane. Saying the ‘airplane’, I don’t mean the object, nor its measurements, but the shared meaning behind the very denotation of that word as consequence of our language application. This is not relational.

    Furthermore, Measurement “brings” the properties of a physical system “into existence”, but not the ‘object’ (the house, the tree, you).

    Furthermore, “brings… into existence…” – this is only a metaphor. We never “witnessed” that. We even cannot infer that. We can say that the experiment will probably show us the same any time we repeat it, but we cannot say (or conclude from that) that ‘measurement’, or for that matter ‘observation’, “bring the results into existence”. I even do not know what ‘bring into existence’ may be (as it is unlike giving birth or sculpturing or having an original idea, namely the singular tint of ‘beginning’ associated with it).
    To sum-up that point, that “the physical world has no standalone reality” cannot be propagated by Rovelli, as far as I can see, as a positive assertion (in a positive tone, so to speak), but only as a negative one, namely that we have no sufficient grounds to assert the former in any coherent way (not maybe, not probably, not ‘sort of…’ – nothing!).

    A fundamental question is: when Rovlli stopped short, in 1996, from drawing any philosophical inference from his scientific assertion/thesis, what made you continue and make this step in the sense of why was this step necessary for you, as such? In other words, what did your philosophical “embrace” or “signification” of the pure scientific theory, rest upon? And I am not referring to your development of your specific version of Idealism as such, but specifically the pretention to provide to a scientific assertion a philosophical supplement? I cannot see that need on any level whatsoever. Perhaps it echoes the subjective, psychological need you ascribe to Rovelli (I return to it below)?

    But there’s more to it: You believe that there should necessarily be deeper, absolute (non-relative) absolute “layer of reality that grounds” the physical relational domain. But pay attention what you did by introducing that “belief” into the discourse: you latently (non-explicitly) switched idioms by introducing the idiom (discourse) of “layer of reality that grounds” which was not merely absent but irrelevant to Rovelli’s original thesis (it was not a part pf his discourse). This is very important. The way you present it, it’s like he made an assertion and first refrained from “completing” it in some possible way, which you did, and then he himself completed it in another way, which is opposite to – and exclusive of – what you did, for which you criticize him. BUT THIS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED. Let’s me address your arguments in some detail.

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  12. Infinite regress: “if the things that are in relationship are themselves meta-relationships…” – But Rovelli never spoke of ‘things’. For him, consistent with his scientific discourse, there are no ‘things’ whatsoever/anywhere. What he seems to say, if coherence is to be observed, is that “no talk of” underlying reality or domain of being is possible over and above the relational scientific discourse, if only because there is no conceivable means of validating or refuting any assertion to that effect (of the “thingness” of things, which is an empty category not only science-wise but also philosophy-wise). Indeed, it is convenient to circumscribe Rovelli’s 1996 assertions as merely scientific, but if we listen from closer, such “pure” scientific assertion is imbued with delicate (as it were, non-assertive) philosophical resonance. That doesn’t mean that no mystery is left, but that the latter is incorporated into the philosophical shadow of the scientific assertion, followed by absolute reluctance to speak the unspeakable.

    You argue that “to speak of pure relationships without non-relational entities to constitute and ground those relationships is literally meaningless, in a semantic sense”, and proceed to ask (via the ‘movement’ example) whether it is at all coherent that: “…we end up with a world in which everything is movement but there is nothing that moves”. I dare to argue that it does, without resorting to any 3rd century mystics. For that I would go back to the above concept you introduced and bear on without explaining (grounding) its applicability to the discussion (that is why I said above that you did it ‘latently’): “layer of reality that grounds…”. I would argue that by introducing that expression / concept / mode of speech, you yourself commit the flaw for which you criticize Rovelli, namely asserting something which is devoid of any meaning, in a semantic sense (namely beyond the mere possibility to articulate it in language). I will try to explain.

    I would argue that the very application of the notion of “a layer of reality that grounds…” is beyond language in the sense that our language has no feasible way to incorporate what that expression purports to denote. Let me put it this way: given the way we acquire the ability to use language, there is no traceable instance where we could “learn” to use this expression in a semantically meaningful way (except poetically, the same way that being able to say that “nothing is everything” is meaningless except poetically).

    When Rovelli says that ‘everything is movement’ he does not need to follow up and say ‘AND there is nothing that moves’. Only you, as a philosopher, need that and proceed to make that leap. And the pretention to isolate (namely, latently reaffirm) and explore the ‘things’ that science demonstrates not to exist, is indeed a leap even before any attempt to “account” for them. The seeming gap between the scientific dismantling of tables and human organisms into quantum reality, on the one hand, and the total environment of our human interaction (the total sum of objects, things and processes we speak; precisely so: all that we speak, before we “see”, “observe” or ‘interact with”), on the other hand, is, for all we know, at least for now, beyond the scope of physics or any other science. You, as philosopher, take your shot at it, and therefore the burden of persuasion or demonstration rests entirely on you. But you first need to clarify the specific mode of speech you pursue in doing so.

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  13. Unlike yourself, I, personally, reject eastern-kind, mystical attempts at bridging that gap by any kind of introspective reflection. The pretention to bridge a chasm which we even not sure we can properly formulate, and which strikes at (or at least shakes) the very base of our set of tools as curious, exploration-driven creatures, by resorting to “oneself” while employing positive alienation from the spark of reason, seems to me ludicrous. At the same time, when a philosopher like yourself makes a genuine shot at that gap, starting from the assertion that “there must be a deeper, non-physical and non-relational layer to reality, which grounds the relationships that constitute the physical world”, I ask myself two questions: 1) Why “must be”? And 2) If so, what kind of challenge the satisfaction of that need stipulates/imposes? For me, this ‘must be’ element is crucial and very problematic, if only because it was never (and for quite a long time) truly demonstrated. As for the kind of challenge involved, it needs, before anything else, to overcome the flaw you ascribe to Rovelli, namely that of securing that the very enterprise/discussion embarked upon is semantically meaningful and doesn’t have to do, irrespective of its quantitative scope, with speaking beyond our ability to speak {e.g., “mind at rest”; “a subject without objects” or “pregnant with the potential for every conceivable internal relationship”… – and what if a strike of lightning “cuts” that rest or the entire planet on which that rest obviously “harbors” (e.g., poetics) is hit by an gigantic meteorite?}.

    To sum-up, perhaps there are, as you suggest, some psychological drivers behind Rovelli’s (perhaps selective or inconsistent) resort to eastern approaches to deep philosophical puzzles, but this only strengthens my point: for him (while not engaging in his ‘day job’) it is, at best, a psychological need. For you, at least on the face of it, it isn’t, amounting to a confrontation with a genuine problem/puzzle. You argue that there is no discernible meaning pointed to by the words in Rovelli’s claim, even though the claim itself can be articulated in language. I argue that it is nothing other than the ability to speak which enables you to proceed where he, at first, stopped, and later resorted to mysticism. In other words, there is no discernible meaning pointed to by your words regarding a “standalone” layer of reality beyond all-pervasive movement, even though your claim can be articulated in language. Only language allows us to speak of ‘things’ or ‘movement’ as categories. Nevertheless, you ascribe them some kind of essence they don’t possess, and thereafter embark on explicating it. It seems to me that you are able to do so only because we can speak, whereby there is no meaning in that lingual pursuit even though it can be articulated in language.

    If I am wrong or got confused somewhere along the way, I would very much appreciate to know it.

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    1. William James may have put his finger on what lies behind this philosophical divergence. "There are two ways of looking at our duty in the matter of opinion. Believe truth! Shun error! These, we see, are two materially different laws; and by choosing between them we may end by coloring differently our whole intellectual life. We may regard the chase for truth as paramount, and the avoidance of error as secondary; or we may, on the other hand, treat the avoidance of error as more imperative, and let truth take its chance.... We must remember that these feelings of our duty about either truth or error are in any case only expressions of our passional life. Biologically considered, our minds are as ready to grind out falsehood as veracity, and he who says, 'Better go without belief forever than believe a lie!' merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe.... For my own part, I have also a horror of being duped; but I can believe that worse things than being duped may happen to a man in this world..... It is like a general informing his soldiers that it is better to keep out of battle forever than to risk a single wound. Not so are victories either over enemies or over nature gained. Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf."

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  14. Here Kastrup indulges his penchant for "filling in the blanks." For me, it seems if any guilt is to be assigned to Rovelli, it is his love for rigorous parsimony. He just won't go beyond the physics of the problem. In "Helgoland," he elegantly supports his ontology with all kinds of examples and allegories. There is a "there" there, after all.

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  15. Regarding these differences between Bernardo and Carlo, I suggest that we humans are necessarily limited beings. Thus, when we probe ultimate nature, we eventually encounter unavoidable, insuperable difficulties. This occurs regardless of the framework or discipline used in our investigation. When we approach such rarified climes, our abilities become stymied — perhaps not just by the inadequacies of language, but also of rational thought. Identifying the limits our understanding is a daunting task that may forever elude us — but I suspect that these limits differ among us according to various idiosyncratic mental factors that may never be realized. Peace.

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  16. So when the best left-brain accomplishment yet, that of of quantum mechanics, denies the concept of an objective external physical reality, where do the left-brainers go for their ontological primitive? Finally back to the immediate lived conscious experience of the right-brain, to Idealism? No. Resolute in their need to be abstract and conceptual, the left-brainers double down and come up with something even more abstract and conceptual than matter. Could you come with a more abstract and conceptual and less grounded metaphysics than having relationship as an ontological primitive? It's as silly as saying information is the ground of everything. Matter is an abstract way of describing experience. It doesn't create experience. Information is information about something, it doesn't create anything. Relationships are a description of experience, they cannot create experience.

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  17. Hi Bernardo, I am not sure how familiar you are with the work of Nagarjuna, but your usage of the term mystic to refer to him tells me not so much. Nagarjuna is not a "mystic" actually, he is a pretty rigorous philosopher. Jan Westerhoff explains his philosophy as a kind of "anti-foundationalism".

    I would suggest that you check out some of the academic treatments of his work, maybe Siderits and Katsura's translation and commentary ("Nagarjuna's Middle Way") and the work of Jan Westerhoff (Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction).

    As a side note, the disagreement that you raise here with Rovelli is actually a recapitulation of a very ancient debate that went on in ancient India between the Buddhist idealist Yogacara school and the Madhyamaka school. It's fascinating to see the debate resurface in the contemporary world. It makes a Buddhist like myself smile somewhat.

    Anyways, I appreciate your work, though I think the critique here is a little bit misplaced. Nagarjuna does not hold that the world is "made of nothing", he is not a nihilist and this critique was something that Madhyamaka philosophers often railed against. Anti-foundationalism does not necessarily mean that there is nothing, what is means is that there is no foundation. Anyways, Nagarjuna's POV is explained better in the books I cited above. Check them out.

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    1. Well said! I have read those books and I think your conclusion is correct.

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  18. Rovelli: Everything is relational, but in reality there are no “things” that relate. Relation relates. Kastrup: Everything is consciousness, but in reality there are no “things” that are conscious. Consciousness is conscious. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

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    1. Despite the obvious category confusion that underlies the question, I sense this may actually be sincere, so I'll indulge. The word relationship only has meaning insofar as there are things that relate, for what we mean by 'relationship' is a dynamic between entities. So for relationships to exist there must be entities that relate. There is no standalone sense to 'relationship.'

      Consciousness, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. It basically means a subject of phenomenal experience, a 'thing' in itself. If you think that for consciousness to exist there needs to be a thing that is conscious, but which is not itself consciousness, you are begging the question: you're presupposing that consciousness is reducible, which is precisely the point in contention.
      Your point may only appear to make any sense because of the careful way in which you structured the words to make the two statements sound similar. But that's just a word game, based on a rather obvious category mistake, which I hope I clarified above.

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    2. You're saying that for relationality to exist, there must be things in a state of relationship, but for consciousness to exist, there is no need for things that are in a state of conscious?

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    3. The 'thing' that is conscious is not ontologically distinct from consciousness. Consciousness is conscious. There is no thing outside consciousness, only the variety of excitations of consciousness that we call experiences.

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    4. Sorry, but to me this is the same as saying "Blueness is blue" or "wetness is wet", then making "blue" or "wet" an ontological primitive and saying everything is just a variety of excitation of "blue" or "wet". I realize that at some point there must be an ontological primitive, but I don't see why "consciousness" qualifies while "relationality" doesn't. If you're looking for an ontological primitive, you can just leave the subject out of anything...the blue subject, the wet subject, the conscious subject, the relational subject.

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    5. Good grief... Relations cannot be an ontological primitive for exactly the same reason that movement cannot be an ontological primitive. Movement only has meaning if there are entities that move. Movement without anything that moves means precisely nothing. Movement merely describes a relation between things, and has no standalone existence by the very meaning of the word. The same holds for relations (of which movement is an instance). There is no meaning to the word relations if there are no entities relating. This is painfully obvious and follows from the very meaning of the word 'relation.' If you can't get this, I can't help any more.

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    6. Good grief... Consciousness cannot be an ontological primitive for exactly the same reason that movement cannot be an ontological primitive. Movement only has meaning if there are entities that move, and consciousness only has meaning if there are entities that are conscious.

      We're having a difference of opinion on the meaning of "consciousness" obviously. Honestly, I was with you all through every one of your books until reading Mark Solms, who posits a pretty convincing, mathematically quantifiable, and ultimately testable definition of consciousness with the help of Friston. It doesn't save materialism exactly, and it may interface well with non-dualism somehow. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

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    7. I define 'consciousness' to be the involuntary wiggling of my left big toe. There. It's measurable and can be tested to correlate with my mental excitement level. Hard problem solved. Where's my Nobel Prize?

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  19. With respect though, Bernardo, a self-contained consciousness also begs the question, as conscious may always in fact need something to be conscious of, in order to speak of it sensibly as consciousness or awareness.

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    1. Nonsense. All theories of reality need at least one thing that is irreducible, in terms of which we can explain everything else. Saying that consciousness itself, a subject of experience, the only ontological category whose existence we can be certain of, is that irreducible thing is a theoretical statement, not circular reasoning (i.e. it doesn't beg the question). You guys are seriously confusing your categories. What one can't do is to say that relations are an irreducible ontological category, since relations are __by definition__ reducible to dynamics across entities that relate.

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    2. PS: the 'things consciousness is conscious of' are just excitations of consciousness itself. Even physics (superstring theory, M-theory, even quantum field theory) uses this notion of excitations to explain dynamics, variety, in terms of unity. My work elaborates extensively on this in multiple places.

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    3. Right.
      But there is still the question of whether it is coherent to speak of consciousness without those excitations. If it isn't, then the excitations are a necessary feature in the definition of consciousness, just as racket and ball are necessary in the definition of a tennis serve. If the excitations are deemed not necessary for consciousness, I think I would like to see examples of what you are referring to.

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  20. One can declare anything irreducible. But it wouldn't be coherent, for example, to declare a tennis serve irreducible, when it consists (at the least) of an arm, a racket and a ball. I'm not convinced that there are any actual examples of consciousness *without objects of apprehension* Those objects may be part of a larger definition of consciousness, just as racket and ball are part of a larger (properly complete) definition of a tennis serve. Perhaps if you can give me an example of consciousness operating without anything to apprehend?

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    1. Deep dreamless sleep (see my comment above regarding how this qualifies as consciousness, especially in Vedanta tradition).

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    2. I am not aware of any consciousness whatsoever in deep sleep. To say that I can have consciousness that I am not conscious of strikes me as a fundamental contradiction.

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    3. Yes, I thought so as well, until I read philosopher Evan Thompson's book some years ago - Waking, Dreaming, Being - which explores in one section the Vedanta model of consciousness, of which deep sleep is a mode.

      However, it occurs to me now that Thompson's choice of 'Being' in the title suggests a middle-ground position here. We'd all agree, after all, that we (as in: our individual body-minds) still exist in deep sleep, even if our dualistic experience of subject/object relations has temporarily died down. So this would be the most basic mode of consciousness - the being mode - although we could also call this mode the 'power of' or 'potential for' consciousness mode, which we know inferentially during moments of waking reflection.

      This approach might also resolve Bernardo's beef with Rovelli, as the emptiness in Buddhist tradition is not nearly as nihilistic as it sounds (whether Rovelli realizes that or not). Indeed, emptiness is the creative wellspring of all relational experience.

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  21. That's really what I was driving at above, which is that there is a "potential" for consciousness which precedes consciousness per se. I used the example of a mirror. A mirror isn't actually "mirror" until it reflects something, or if we like, itself. Another example would be waves and the ocean. But if the excitations (waves) are necessary for the description of consciousness, then unruffled ocean (if such a state can exist) is the potential for consciousness, or a pregnant pre-conscious, filled with the potentiality for awareness, but not yet aware. I think deep sleep is like this.

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    1. So I'm comfortable with that view, but I'm also comfortable with a broader definition of 'consciousness' or 'awareness' - one that permits non-dual as well as dualistic experience. I say that not just to be polite to Asian traditions that use such broader definitions, but also because I can infer such experience from later, more reflective states of mind.

      I recall Bernardo likes to use the example of driving to work in an automatic mode, where his mind is preoccupied with matters other than driving, so he is not 'consciously' minding the road, and yet he arrives at work safely with little memory of his driving, maybe a few images at most.

      I had a similar experience this morning while exercising. Some days I apprehend so many objects related to my physical activity and/or to the room I work out in. Today, however, I was lost in thought and, before I knew it, my (albeit short) workout routine was over and I barely remember any of it...really just the thoughts!

      Before you say 'aha! but you still apprehended thoughts! ergo all experience is dualistic/relational!', consider the point that, whatever mental/psychic activity was required to get Bernardo safely to work and to get me to complete my workout did not require reflective awareness (although presumably it required some kind of awareness, enough to control the car vis a vis the road etc.). Rather, that activity occurred offline, so to speak...not so unlike the way deep sleep occurs offline from all the rest (e.g. thoughts, feelings, images, and perceptions).

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  22. Mufi, an even better example would be a sleepwalker. You get out of bed, wrap the kettle in toilet paper, and get back into bed, with no memory of having done any such thing. The issue is whether that is "consciousness". I would argue not, and that it exists as some kind of pre-conscious, un-self-apprehending state. I am not sure how one could surmise, for example, that there is consciousness in deep sleep without some kind of state or experience to reflect on.

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    1. Sure, given a narrow definition of "consciousness" - one that only permits reflective awareness - that makes sense.

      From a broad definition as I alluded to above, a sleepwalker is also conscious in a sense. After all, she can arise from bed and navigate her living space on foot, even though she isn't aware that she is so aware and cannot recall the incident.

      Advanced meditators describe states of consciousness that also don't quite fit the narrow definition (e.g. see the jhanas in Buddhist tradition), though they don't the quite fit the deep sleep mode, either - e.g. the meditator remains seated upright (not snoring or showing other outward signs of sleep) and yet he can later recall extreme states of cognitive & sensual deprivation.

      So I prefer to think of consciousness as occurring along a continuum with dualistic/relational states of waking and dreaming existing as non-exhaustive points. Non-dual experience is another point (or set of points), as anyone familiar with Asian philosophy can tell you (e.g. I recommend David Loy's classic book Nonduality on the subject).

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  23. A mechanical robot can do the thing of walking from room to room though, so that does not give us a diagnostic distinction between such a system and a sleepwalker. Even the extreme states possible in meditation, imo, require a separation of "apprehender" and "apprehended", even if it is a more subtle one than overt sensory phenomena, otherwise there simply could not be anything to report. They would not be able to tell you about something (or even know it had happened) were there not at least a subtle division to register. And this should not surprise this, as all known apprehending works this way. One cannot hear sounds or see sights or register feelings without categories of distinction.

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    1. I would agree that the absorptive states of meditation probably occur somewhere on the continuum closer to relational awareness. I don't know for sure, as I'm a relative novice when it comes to meditation, but I'll grant the estimate, based on the descriptions I've read or heard after the fact.

      However, I do have regular first-hand experience of deep sleep, which I'm placing at the extreme end of the continuum and 'unconscious' mental activity during waking hours, which I place somewhere in the middle (i.e. as a kind of offline thread, while some 'conscious' mental thread is running). The fact that I can only infer these threads afterwards only eliminates them from the category of mental processes if we define 'mental' in a sufficiently narrow way.

      The same is true of how we define 'conscious', which Bernardo and so many translators of Asian thought define more broadly. I'm personally not wedded to any precise language or cultural context here, so long as we're clear that psyche (e.g. as Jung used to describe his premise of the 'collective unconscious') or mentation is involved (either partly or entirely, depending on one's ontology).

      PS: I would also agree that robots do not experience phenomenal states as they navigate a room, say, but for different reasons. In short: I'm more generous, cognitively speaking, towards living organisms than I am towards machines.

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  24. In the postion I think I adopt, consiousness is a direct (and "soft") emergent of "pre-consciousness" which is the existence principle prior to any state of divisional self-apphrenesion. I suspect that this dividing or projecting into states of excitation / apprehension happen automatically and serve an existential purpose...namely for pre-consciousness to "complete" itself as consciousness. Thus there is nothing else that pre-consciousness can become except conscousness, but it must complete the act of doing so by manifesting the world, else it ;apses into a primal quiescence which, imo, is a radical potential only.

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    1. That position is fine with me, but if we treat a person as a microcosm of the universe (or literally as a mini-cosmos), then one implication is that deep sleep is how we experience pre-consciousness. And just as deep sleep is an example of mental activity at the personal level, so too is pre-consciousness an example of mental activity at the cosmic level.

      This narrative actually sits well with Bernardo's idealist Mind at Large (MaL), except that our human mini-minds have evolved to more complex forms that support conscious and meta-conscious mental activities, as well...forms lacking at the primitive, instinctual level of MaL.

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    2. But I don't "experience" deep sleep, and I don't "experience" being under an anaesthetic. This is exactly the problem with those zones, even if I limit it just to my own case. Here are situations where there is clearly no experiencer or experience of any kind, therefore the claim that "consciousness" underlies all my states disconfirms itself from my own simple empirical observation of my own situation. I can certainly (and in fact DO) entertain the idea that these states are pre-conscious or a pregnant potentiality for consciousness...but again, that is not consciousness or awareness. It's not just a matter of words. If someone claims that I have a toothache, but I'm not aware of having a toothache...that's not coherent. A toothache IS the awareness of having a toothache. I think the same must hold for the whole subject of the fundamental of consciousness.

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    3. When I awaken from a deep sleep, it’s true that I have no memories of objective experience (as in: experience of objects like images or thoughts). But it doesn’t follow that I had no experience...say, that of a dark but happy and refreshing rest. That is, after all, exactly how I feel after the fact (thus my use of the word ‘infer’ throughout his conversation) and why I look forward to another such experience the next night.

      But if you insist on reserving words more narrowly, that’s fine, too. I would insist, however, that Asian traditions and their translators use them more broadly and that, in any case, deep sleep is another mental process...akin to the ‘offline’ processes that occur during our waking hours.

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    4. I don't think it's a difference of opinion that can be resolved. I would maintain that in order for anyone to report an experience, they must be able to refer to an discernible state (however subtle) that constitutes their experience. It may be possible to become conscious in a limited way in deep sleep by meditation-like practices, but again, I think this is generating a new state with which the subject has a relationship by prehension.

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    5. Deep sleep is a discernible state of experience, but only after the fact...like my discernment of having physically exercised while lost in thought, only minus the thought (and the perception that's presumably required to complete the exercise).

      I could pull up sleep research that adds to this argument (e.g. from Evan Thompson's work, which is linked somewhere above in these comments), but I'm trying to limit myself to first-hand accounts, because they're more relatable and intuitive.

      Again, when I awaken from a deep sleep, I feel like I just emerged from a deeply relaxing mental exercise. Just because the waking experience features objects (e.g. images of my bedroom, sounds from outside my bedroom windows, feelings of rest and perhaps some thoughts about the day ahead) doesn't mean that the objectless mental events that preceded it do not qualify as experience. Sure, you can define 'experience' that way, but that's all you've done.

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  25. I'm not talking about objects though, I'm talking about a state that offers prehensions for you, and hence is discussable for you. Without that, you simply wouldn't be able to discuss it. So for instance, when you say, "I feel like I just emerged from a deeply relaxing mental exercise" I think your projecting your current state of refreshment onto a past state of the body where there was no experience. And even if you were not, in order to reference a "relaxing state" you would need access to an affect you are labelling "relaxing" in order to have any entity to discuss. I don't accept that there is any empirical evidence of a "consciousness" that is without prehensions, not just as a matter of linguistic definition, but because the examples people give (such as your own) are clearly prehensive states when they are unpacked. The same applies to mystical states, near death states, etc. Indeed, formally speaking, it's not possible to know that *as an experience* a near death experience even exists before the person "recalls" it. The point at which they perceive themselves to be recalling it may in fact be its first emergence as a conscious event.

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    1. You're just repeating your definitions, only with more synonyms for dualistic subject/object relations like 'prehension'. You're free to do so (and to reject a broader understanding of consciousness, which encompasses non-dual experience). But it's still a linguistic choice, influenced by a cultural conditioning that is by no means universal (as anyone familiar with Asian thought can attest).

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  26. There is no such thing as "nondual experience" mufi, it's an incoherent construct. An experience is a prehension by an experiencing subject...by definition. Show me one experience that is not that. As I said earlier, it's not a coherent construct to claim that I can be conscious when I have no knowledge of being conscious. Consciousness is a form of knowing, and if there was no knowing, then I wasn't conscious, end of story. This isn't linguistic, it's ontological. Now there is an interesting question to be asked about someone who cannot lay down memories, as to whether they are really conscious, but that is another dicussions.

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    1. Our disagreement might be ontological in the sense that you assume that reality is ultimately mind-independent and I do not. But I don't need to take a counter ontological stance to yours in order to argue for a broader phenomenological stance. I need only take seriously my first-hand experience of deep sleep. That I can only report on that experience in the waking state (when subject/object relations resume) is true, but trivially so.

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    2. I don't think it's independent of consciousness, I just think it's a necessary and immediate precursor of consciousness, but not consciousness itself. I know that mystics claim pure nondual states "of consciousness" but I think that these are subtle, prehended states specially launched by first being a conscious organism. This is different to a plenum prior to ANY manifestations being "conscious" and I don't know how you would go about verifying (or falsifying) such a claim.

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    3. The deep sleep example - like the example of deep absorptive meditation - need not lead to any particular ontological conclusions, if only because the sleeper and the meditator can be brought back into a normal state by external stimuli (e.g. by an alarm clock or by someone poking you). That alone suggests a type of persistent awareness that may or may not exist, say, in post-mortem states, depending on one's ontological commitments.

      But I would agree that there is something special about these states in that one cannot reflect or report on them, even to oneself, except ex post facto in the waking and (to some extent) dreaming states.

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    4. Somewhere Bernardo discusses the distinction between “meta consciousness”, or “metacognition”, and phenomenal or experiential consciousness. Greensleeves is talking about the former, and mufi is talking about the latter.

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    5. Bob: I did mention "conscious and meta-conscious" states above, but I think it's fair to say that Greensleeves wants to strike deep sleep (and analogous 'offline' states) from the category of experience altogether. Although I disagree with that move, I admit that deep sleep stands out as a special case...one that's more salient for its lack of mental objects (e.g. thoughts & images), even though I'm able to reflect and report on that state afterwards (e.g. as dark, quiet, and peaceful).

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    6. I'm actually not talking about meta-cognition (being able to reflect on the fact that I am conscious or having experience) but consciousness at its minimal operational definition. I know that my act can't reflect upon her experiences or reflect upon the fact that she has conscious experiences, but I am quite prepared to grant that she has conscious experiences. What I am not prepared to grant (as I see no plausible justification being presented) is that she (or if you prefer the "consciousness" within her) is still conscious without systems of context to prehend.

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  27. Yes, mufi, but to do so you are cognizing a @darK" a "quiet" and a "peace" all of which are prehensions, or you would not be able to render them so in language.

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    1. Yes, Greensleeves , that's partly why I chose 'quiet'. It's not just that no one else is talking...I'm not talking either, not even internally. Discursive thought has completely taken a break.

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  28. I discovered one of your articles years ago, and saw in it a nexus of reason and intuition. You helped me reconcile two sides of my mind that had been at war for decades. Your books were the ladder upon which I climbed, eventually, out of the pit of existential despair. When I read Helgoland, I felt the same spark... at first. But it went sour. Rovelli concluded there was nothing beyond the veil. I felt that pit opening up again, jaws wide. He was wrong somehow; he had to be! But I couldn't tell how, exactly. This post was extremely helpful to me, just as your article in Scientific American helped me reconcile the objective parts of Rovelli's RQM with Analytical Idealism ("The Universe as Cosmic Dashboard").

    Thank you for the energy you have poured into your campaign to share these ideas with the world. I am certain you face a lot of opposition and anger along the way. I want you to know that your words have had life-changing impact on me, and probably many other reason-loving alters just like me.

    By the way, your course on Essentia was an engaging summary of your work that included enough new material to keep even die-hard fans like me interested throughout. Well done!

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  29. "How does Rovelli justify this rather surprising proposition? He cites 3rd-century Indian mystic Nāgārjuna, interpreting the latter's writings to mean that there is no ultimate essence to reality except emptiness." -Uhm that he means he tripped with 5-MeO-DMT?

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  30. Hi Bernardo,

    I’ve recently finished Rovelli’s ‘Helgoland’ and I wonder whether what he proposes there can be seen in a slightly different way from what you describe?

    Probably it’s me misunderstanding, but the way I would describe his proposal is more along the following lines. Let’s take dancing, as a metaphor. I interpreted what he's saying as something like this:

    imagine that “reality” (slippery term, I know) is a dance. I don’t think he’s saying that there is no such things as dancers, only the dancing (so just movement without moving things'. But rather that it would not make sense to think there is such thing as “the dancers when they are not dancing”. All there is is the dance/the dancing (which, by the way, would be the same thing). There’s no dancing without dancers (no movement without something that moves, I’m with you on that), but if reality is just made of dancing, it doesn’t make sense to think of the dancers outside of / beyond their dancing.

    Out of metaphor: reality is relational. It doesn’t mean is it 'made of nothing'. It means that it doesn’t make sense to postulate the existence of entities which are not in relationship with anything else. Something exists only within relations. There’s nothing outside of the relational fabric that is reality.

    Now, that does leave open what is probably one of the deepest (and oldest) philosophical questions, perhaps the key question: the one vs the many (something you address in your metaphysical proposal). I don't think that is really addressed by Rovelli (in that book at least).

    I’m not a philosopher nor a physicist, just passionate about these topics, on which you’re much more qualified than I am, so I’m most probably the one who’s off the mark here, but I just wanted to give you my thoughts. This is the way his proposal made sense to me, at least.

    Keep up the great work!

    BTW, off topic: I would love if you ever wrote/talked about Whitehead (is he someone you're interested in? I heard you mention him briefly in a podcast interview). I really enjoyed how you covered Schopenhauer and Jung. You were able to make them so much more accessible. Whitehead is a very difficult philosopher, and I would love if he was the get a similar treatment :-)

    Thank you. Ciao.
    Francesco.

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  31. Though in a sense "mental representations" ARE "external objects, so they are needed in the ecology of being, otherwise consciousness would not be conscious, as it would have nothing to be conscious of.

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    1. Not so according to non-dual traditions.

      But even lacking the insights of a meditation adept or mystic, one can imagine the experience to which they allude.

      Subtract all of the mental objects that one can possibly be aware of (e.g. thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and perceptions) and what are you left with?

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    2. "Subtract all of the mental objects that one can possibly be aware of (e.g. thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and perceptions) and what are you left with?"

      A reference to an experience that someone had, which is all it could be. But if a nonphenomenal consciousness were possible, and if it were oomplete, then the world could not and would not exist.

      Exactly the opposite situation to that seems to me to be the case, namely consciousness or essence is deliberately "pouring" itself into a world of phenomena, presumably because possibilities exist there that cannot be known in any other way.

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    3. A field is a field, whether its seeds have sprouted yet or not.

      Consciousness ("cit" or "citta" in Sanskrit) is that field, although it goes by other names, as well (e.g. "sat" for Being and "ananda" for Bliss/Happiness/Peace).

      But you can call it what you will.

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  32. Mufi:

    A field and seeds are in fact two entirely different things, so that reference doesn't work. Here's a better one -

    An octopus cannot be described without its arms, whether one chooses to call it "one" or "many".

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  33. All analogies have their limitations, especially when trying to conceive of Ultimate Reality, which by definition has no analogues.

    That said, I imagine an octopus without arms looks like a head with eyes and gills. A field with no crops looks like an empty field.

    But I grant you this dis-analogy: the "field" of Consciousness requires no "seeds" or additives of any kind in order to grow its "crops". It's Self-sufficient.

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  34. Hello Mufi

    Yes, analogies have their limitations, but an analogy (or an image or a metaphor) does have to be applicable to the case that one is trying to represent. I put it to you that there is no (operational) analogy possible for the case you are trying to present because it has no real correspondences.

    Again, fields don't grow seedlings from themselves without seeds there to grow and without the genetics and energy stores in the seedling. This isn't a valid analogy for what you are trying to express. I believe you are trying to say something like the waves simply are the ocean (this would be a better analogy for your case, imo). However, there would still be problems. A truly non-phenomenal ocean could not produce waves either. Wind is needed to do that, which is an external agent exciting the surface of the ocean. I do think it is likely true (to a degree) that we can be considered "waves on an ocean"...but I don't think it is true that the ocean exists without the waves.

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  35. Sorry you didn’t like that analogy. I did say there are no analogs to Ultimate Reality, so we do the best we can.

    A more scientific analogy, btw, might draw on quantum theory, with its use of “field” or, even better, the “foam” from which particles pop in and out of existence. But if one insists on literalism then of course these metaphors will fall short, as well.

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    1. Mufi:

      Yes, but again, quantum foam is "foamy" *by nature*...in the same way I am saying that the ocean is "wavy" by nature. Existence, imo, is "manifesty" by nature. You can't actually leave that out and be talking about "ultimate reality". Without manifestation, you are describing an abstraction that can't exist by itself. And if it ever did exist by itself, manifestation would never arise from it as you have the problem of what could disturb its equilibrium.

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  36. "At the quantum level, matter and antimatter particles are constantly popping into existence and popping back out, with an electron-positron pair here and a top quark-antiquark pair there. This behavior is the reason that scientists call these ephemeral particles "quantum foam": It's similar to how bubbles in foam form and then pop."

    - https://www.fnal.gov/pub/today/archive/archive_2013/today13-02-01_NutshellReadmore.html

    Key words: "it's similar to...", not that these particles are literally bubbles in every detail, leaving nothing out.

    Similarly, atoms are not literally billiard balls, even though that's how they're often presented by science educators to help us visualize them.

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  37. What the concept (and imagery) of quantum foam is intended to imply is that there is a kind of probabilistic seething at the ground of being. In other words, it is not a mirror smooth homogeneity. It is this probabilistic seething that allows for "particles" to "pop in and out of existence" just like disturbance in or upon the ocean is what permits waves in that ocean, or latent genetic programs within a dormant seed (subject to stimulus) are what permits growth to a seedling.

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  38. I'm not a physicist, so when a physicist tells me that 'the reason that scientists call these ephemeral particles "quantum foam"' is because it reminds them of "how bubbles in foam form and then pop", then that's good enough for me.

    That is, after all, how a metaphor generally works (e.g. according to the work of linguist George Lakoff): someone takes a concrete source from common (sensory-motor) experience (e.g. a bubble) and applies some attribute(s) from it to a more abstract target (e.g. a subatomic particle).

    And I can't stress enough that it's especially so that we must leave things out if we are to speak intelligibly at all about Ultimate Reality, which is Infinite All-Encompassing Being, given the finite beings that we are.

    Getting back to Bernardo's idealism, it may or may not be true that a mind is a good source for the target of Ultimate Reality. Apparently physicalists don't think so, but since the only literals we have comes from our mental objects (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, etc.), there is a certain appeal in hewing as closely to that experience as possible, while trying not to confuse our metaphors for literals, as useful as they are.

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