“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, February 20, 2011

OO Mind

Benoit, who has a very good blog (nice Sunn O))) title), asked the following question on a recent post of mine concerning problems with theories of mind:

What suggestions do you have for navigating between reductionism and anti-reductionism? Or if I miss the larger meaning, what might analysis look like that ejects either instrument?

It sometimes feels as if we still haven't progressed too far from Aristotle's thought on these matters in De Anima.

That's the whole thing, isn't it? I couldn't agree more than we're back to square one with Aristotle on these matters, if only because Aristotle provides what remains the most devastating series of critiques of all forms of materialist reductionism out there. Wouldn't it be good, in that case, to pick up where Aristotle left off, rather than trying to return to Anaximander or Anaxagoras or Democritus?

The OOO solution to this problem, which I've been developing for a little while now, has to do with something that is common to every single entity in reality, according to the view of object-oriented ontology: the as-structure. This is Graham Harman's term for what I've recently been calling sampling. An object samples another object. So for instance the table table-morphoses the salt cellar that's sitting on it. The salt cellar in turn cellar-morphoses the table. A salt-cellar-related sample of table being is presented to the salt cellar.

Isn't this just what minds do? Mind is what samples objects. So on this view, mind is not some special bonus prize for being highly evolved, or an emergent property of sufficiently complex systems. Mind is just what every object does, automatically. We can say this without recourse to tinier things such as neural networks and chemicals, or to larger things like psyches or selves.

Note carefully that this is not quite the same as panpsychism. I'm not claiming that the rings on my fingers have private thoughts and feelings. I'm claiming that my thoughts and feelings are ring-like. If this is agreeable, then both opponents and proponents have been looking for mind in the wrong place. No wonder they haven't found it yet!

Benoit, I hope you like the Sunn O))) allusion in my post title.


zareen said...

A comment of sorts:

Benoit said...

This is one piece of modernist psychology which a lot of people simply stopped talking about in its precise limits (post-structuralism revisits it, but in a more... "literary" way as it concerns otherness and inter-subjectivity).

From British empiricism to Kant to Nietzsche to Freud, it's generally conceded that mind, in order to function, requires an iota of the outside, needs a sample.

If this is to pick up where Aristotle leaves off, however, then I think that tradition has to be modified. In De Anima, intellection does not exhaust the soul; the (human) soul possesses intellection as a potency. What's troubling with all this focus on consciousness studies and neuroscience is that we defer the question of how intellection relates to our overall life-form, our entelechy in Aristotle's terms. It's all fun and games making one-to-one mappings between mind and brain, but run for cover when we have to consider that brain as a moment in a life-form.

So, being Aristotelian, I see nothing but value in the notion of sampling (and I think, rather vaguely, that it has something do with the sense of touch as primary in De Anima), but it could be that "mind" may not be what encompasses that phenomena. To give you more sense of what I mean, I refer you to your own "Death Food" post, wherein for its own sake life allows something dangerous (exterior) to aggregate where it is most vulnerable.

I hope I'm making sense.