A bit on Panpsychism—part 2: Why the idea is basically problematic, and what could be a different (and hopefully better) alternative

I continue from my last post. While the last post was fairly straight-forward, the subject-matter of this post itself is such that the writing becomes  meandering.


The basic trouble with panpsychism:

The primary referent for the concept of consciousness refers to one’s own consciousness. The existence of the same faculty in other beings is only an inference drawn from observations. If so, and in view of the two facts discussed in the last post, why can’t a similar inference be extended to everything material, too?

Well, consciousness is observed to exist only in those beings that are in fact alive. Consciousness is fundamental, sure. In Ayn Rand’s system, it even is a philosophical axiom. But qua a metaphysical existent, consciousness also happens to be only an attribute, and that too, of only one class of existents: the living beings.

Here, we will not get into the debate concerning which species can be taken as to be truly conscious, i.e., which species can be said to have an individualized, conscious grasp of reality. Personally, I believe that all living beings are conscious to some extent, even if it be only marginal in the more primitive species such as amoebae or plants.

However, regardless of whether plants can be taken to be conscious or not, we can always say that material entities that are not alive never show any evidence of being conscious. Your credit cards, spectacles, or T-shirts never show any evidence of being engaged in a process of grasping reality, or of having a definite, internal and individualized representation of any aspect of reality—no matter in how diluted, primitive or elementary form it may be posited to exist, or how fleetingly momentary such a grasp may be asserted to be. Consciousness is an attribute of only those beings that actually have life. You can’t tell your credit card to go have a life—it simply cannot. For the same reason, it can’t have the faculty to know anything, speaking literally.

Now, coming to the phenomenon of life, it is delimited on two different counts: (i) Life is an attribute possessed by only some beings in the universe, not all. (ii) Even those beings which are alive at some point of time must eventually die after the elapse of some finite period of time. When they do, their physical constituents are no different from the beings that never were alive in the first place. (This “forward-pass” kind of a logical flow is enough for us here; we need not look into the “backward-pass”, viz., the issue of whether life can arise out of the purely inanimate matter or not. It is a complicated question, and so, we will visit it some time later on.)

The physical constituents of a living organism continue to remain more or less the same after the event of its death. Even if we suppose that there is a permanent loss of some kind of a *physical* constituent or attribute at the time death, for our overall argument (concerning panpsychism) to progress, it is enough to observe and accept that at least **some** of the physical aspects continue to remain the same even after death. The continued existence of at least a part of physical constituents is sufficient to establish the following important conclusion:

Not all physical parts of the universe are at all times associated with living beings.

Given the above conclusion, it is easy to see that to speak of all parts of the reality as possessing consciousness is an elementary error: Not all parts of reality are alive at any point of time, and consciousness is an attribute of only those beings that are alive.


An aside related to reincarnation:

Even if reincarnation exists (and I do believe that it does), what persists in between two life-times is not consciousness, but only the soul.

In my view (derived from the ancient Indian traditions, of course, but also departing from it at places), the term “soul” is to be taken in sense of an individual (Sanskrit) “aatmaa.” An “aatmaa,” in my view is, loosely speaking, the “thing” which is neither created at birth nor destroyed at death. However, it is individual in nature, and remains in common across all the life-times of a given individual. Thus, I do not take the term “soul” in the sense in which Aristotle and Ayn Rand do. (For both Aristotle and Ayn Rand, the soul comes into being at birth, and ceases to exist at death.) Further, in my view, the soul has no consciousness—i.e., no feelings, not even just the desires even. For more details on my view of soul, see my earlier posts, especially these: [^][^][^].

The important point for our present discussion is this: Even if the soul were to be an attribute of all parts of the entire universe (including every inanimate objects contained in it), we still couldn’t ascribe consciousness to the inanimate parts of the universe. That is my main point here.


Another idea worth entertaining—but it is basically different from panpsychism:

Following the above-mentioned analysis, panpsychism can make sense only if what it calls “elements of consciousness” is something that is not in itself conscious, in any sense of the term.

The only idea consistent with its intended outcome can be something like a pre-consciousness, i.e., some feature or attribute or condition which, when combined with life, can give rise to a consciousness.

But note that such a pre-condition cannot mean having an actual capacity for being aware; it cannot represent the ability to have that individualized and internal grasp of reality which goes when actual living beings are actually conscious of something. That is the point to understand. The elements that panpsychism would like to have validated cannot be taken to be conscious the way it asserts they are. The elementary attributes cannot be conscious in the same sense in which we directly grasp our own consciousness, and also use it in our usual perceptions and mental functioning.

Even if you accept the more consistent idea (viz., a pre-conscious condition or a soul which may be associated with the non-living beings too), panpsychism would still have on its hands another problem to solve: if consciousness (or even just the pre-consciousness) is distributed throughout the universe, then for what reason does it get “concentrated” to such glaringly high degrees only in the living beings? For what metaphysical function? To allow for which teleological ends? And, following what kind of a process in particular? And then, what is the teleological or metaphysical function of the elements of consciousness?… From what I gather, they don’t seem to have very good ideas regarding questions and issues like these. In fact, I very much doubt if they at all have _any_ ideas in these respects.


Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder [^] notably does touch upon the animate vs. the inanimate distinction. Congratulations to her!

However, she doesn’t pursue it as much as she could have. Her main position—viz., that electrons don’t think—is reasonable, but as I will show below, this position is inevitable only when you stay within the scope of that abstraction which is the physical reality. Her argument does not become invalid, but it does become superfluous, when it comes to the entirety of existence as such (i.e., the whole universe, including all the living as well, apart from the non-living beings). To better put her position in context (as also those of others), let us perform a simple thought experiment.


The thought experiment to show why the panpsychism is basically a false idea:

Consider a cat kept in a closed wooden box. (Don’t worry; the sides of the box all carry holes, and so, the cat has no problem breathing in a normal way.) Administer some general anathesia to the cat, thereby letting her enter into a state of a kind of a deep sleep, being physically unresponsive—in particular, being unresponsive to the external physical stimuli like a simple motion of the box. Then place the cat in the wooden box, and tie its body to a fixed position using some comfortable harnesses.

If you now apply a gentle external force to the box from the outside, the cat-plus-box system can be easily described (or simulated) using physics; some simple dynamical evolution equations apply in this case. The reason is, even though the cat is a living being, the anaesthesia leads it to temporarily lose consciousness, so that nothing other than its purely physical attributes now enter the system description.

Now repeat the same experiment but when the cat is awake. As the box begins to move, the cat is sure to move its limbs and tail in response, or arch its body, etc. The *physical* attributes of her body enter the system description as before. However these physical attributes themselves are now under the influence of (or are a function of) an additional force—one which is introduced into the system description because of the actions of the consciousness of the cat. For instance, the physical attribute of any changes to the shape of its body are now governed not just by the externally applied forces, but also out of the forces generated by the cat itself, following the actions of her consciousness. (The idea of such an additional physical force is not originally mine; I got it from Dr. Harry Binswanger.) Thus, there are certain continuing physical conditions which depend on consciousness—its actions.

Can we rely on the principles or equations of physical evolution in the second case, too? Are our physical laws valid for describing the second case, too?

The answer is, yes. We can rely on the physics principles so long as we are able to bring the physical actions produced by the consciousness of the cat into our system description. We do so via that extra set of the continuing conditions. Let’s give this extra force the name: “life-physical force.”

Next, suppose the entire motion of this box+cat system occurs on a wooden table. The table (just as the wooden box) is not alive. Therefore, no special life-physical force comes into the picture while calculating the table’s actions. The table acts exactly the same way whether there is only a box, or a box with a non-responsive cat, or a box with a much meowing cat. It simply supplies reaction forces; it does not generate any active action forces.

Clearly, we can explain the actions of the table in purely physical terms. In fact doing so is relatively simpler, because we don’t have to abstract away its physical attributes the way we have to, when the object is a living and conscious being. Clearly, without any loss of generality, we can do away with panpsychism (in any of its versions) when it comes to describing the actions of the table.

Since panpsychism is a redundancy in describing the action of the table, obviously, it cannot apply to the universe as a whole. So, its basic idea is false.

Overall, my position is that panpsychism cannot be taken too seriously “as is”, because it does not discuss the intermediate aspect of life (or the distinction of living vs. non-living beings). It takes what is an attribute of only a part of the existence (the consciousnesses of all living beings), and then directly proceeds to smear it on to the entirety of existence as such. In terms of our thought experiment, it takes the consciousness of the cat and smears it onto not just the wooden box, but also onto the wooden table. But as can be seen with the thought-experiment, this is a big leap of mis-attribution. Yet a panpsychist must perform it, because an entire category of considerations is lacking in it—viz., that related to life.

What possibly would a panpsychist have to do to save his thesis? Let’s see.

Since consciousness metaphysically is only an attribute of a bigger class of entities (viz., that of living beings), the only way to rescue panpsychism would be to assert that the entire universe is always alive. This is the only way to have every part of the universe conscious.

But there are big troubles with such a “solution” too.

This formulation does away with the fact of death. If all beings are always alive, such a universe ceases to contain the fact of death. Thus, the new formulation would smear out the distinction between life and death, because it would have clubbed together both (i) the actions of life or of consciousness, and (ii) the actions of the inanimate matter, into a single, incoherent package—one that has no definition, no identity. That is the basic theoretical flaw of attempting the only way in which panpsychism could logically be saved.

Now, of course, since we have given a lifeline (pun intended) to the panpsychist, he could grab it and run with it with some further verbal gymnastics. He could possibly re-define the very life (i.e. living-ness) as a term that is not to be taken in the usual sense, but only in some basic, “elementary,” or “flavour”-some way. Possible… What would be wrong with that?

… The wrong thing is this: There are too many flavors now blurring out too many fundamental distinctions, but too few cogent definitions for all these new “concepts” of what it means to be a mere “flavour.”… Realize that the panpsychist would not be able to directly point out to a single instance of, say the table (or your T-shirt) as having some element of same kind of live which actually is present with the actual living beings.

If an alleged consciousness (or its elementary flavor or residue) cannot perform even a single action of distinguishing something consciously, but only follows the laws of physics in its actions, then what it possesses is not consciousness. Further, if an allegedly elementary form of life can have unconditional existence and never faces death, and leads to no actions other than those which follow from the laws of physics alone, then what it possesses is not life—not even in the elementary sense of the term.

In short, panpsychism is an untenable thesis.

Finally, let me reiterate that when I said that a pre-condition (or pre-consciousness, or “soul”) can remain associated with the inanimate matter too, that idea belongs to an entirely different class. It is not what panpsychists put forth.


Comments on what other bloggers have said, and a couple of relevant asides:

For the reasons discussed above, Motl[^]’s “proof” regarding panpsychism cannot be accepted as being valid—unless he, Koch, Chalmers, or others clarify what exactly they mean by terms such as “elementary” consciousness. Also, the elementary bits of “life”: can there be a \Phi of life too, and if yes, how does \Phi = 0 differ from ordinary loss of life (i.e. death) and the attendent loss of the \Phi of consciousness too.

As to Hossenfelder‘s post, if a given electron does not belong to the body of a conscious (living) being, then there exist no further complications in its physical evolution; the initial and boundary conditions specified in the purely physical terms are enough to describe its actions, its dynamical evolution, to the extent that such an evolution can at all be described using physics.

However, if an electron belongs to a conscious (living) being, then the entire of consideration of whether the electron by itself is conscious or not, whether it by itself thinks or not, becomes completely superfluous. The evolution of its motion now occurs under necessarily different conditions; you now have to bring the physical forces arising due to the action of life, of consciousness, via those additional continuing conditions. Given these additional forces, the system evolution once again follows the laws of physics. The reason for that, in turn, is this: whether an elementary particle like the electron itself is conscious or not, a big entity (like a man) surely is conscious, and the extra physical effects generated by this consciousness do have to be taken into account.

An aside: Philosophy of mind is not a handmaiden to physics or its philosophy:

While on this topic, realize that you don’t have to ascribe consciousness to the electrons of a conscious (living) being. For all you know, there could perhaps be an entirely new kind of a field (or a particle) which completely explains the phenomenon of consciousness, and so, electrons (or other particles of the standard model) can continue to remain completely inanimate at all times. We don’t know if such a field exists or not.

However, my main point here is that we don’t have to exhaust this question without observation; we don’t have to pre-empt this possibility by arbitrarily choosing to hinge the entire debate only on the particles of the standard model of physics, and slapping consciousness onto them.

Realize that the abstraction of consciousness (and all matters pertaining to it or preceding it, like the soul), is fundamentally “orthogonal” to the abstractions of physics, of physical reality. (Here, see my last post.) You don’t commit the error of taking a model (even the most comprehensive model) of physics, and implicitly ask philosophy of mind to restrict its scope to this model (which itself may get revised later on!) Physics might not be a handmaiden to philosophy, but neither is philosophy a handmaiden to physics.

Finally coming to Schlafly‘s post, he too touches upon Hossenfelder’s post, but he covers it from the advance viewpoints of free-will, mind-body connection, Galen’s argument etc.[^]. I won’t discuss his post or positions in detail here because these considerations indeed are much more complicated and advanced.

Another aside: How Galen’s argument involves a superfluous consideration:

However, one point that can be noted here is that Galen fails to make the distinction of whether the atom he considers exists as a part of a conscious (living) being’s body, or whether it is a part of some inanimate object. In the former case, whether the electron itself is conscious or not (and whether there is an extra particle or field of consciousness or not, and whether there is yet another field or particle to explain the phenomenon of life or not), a description of the physical evolution of the system would still have to include the aforementioned life-physical force. Thus, the issue of whether the electron is conscious or not is a superfluous consideration. In other words, Galen’s argument involves a non-essential consideration, and therefore, it is not potent enough to settle the related issues.


Homework for you:

  • If panpsychism were to be true, your credit card, spectacles, or T-shirt would be conscious in some “elementary” sense, and so, they would have to be able to hold some “elementary” items of cognition. The question is, where and through what means do you suppose it might be keeping it? That is to say, what are the physical (or physico-electro-chemical-etc.) correlates for their content of consciousness? For instance, can a tape-recorder be taken to be conscious? Can the recording on the tape be taken as the storage of its “knowledge”? If you answer “yes,” then extend the question to the tape of the tape-recorder. Can it be said to be conscious?
  • Can there be a form of consciousness which does not carry a sense of self even in the implicit terms? As it so actually happens, i.e., in reality, a conscious being doesn’t have to be able to isolate and consciously hold that it has self; but it only has to act with a sense of its own life, its own consciousness. The question asks whether, hypothetically, we can do away with that implicit sense of its own life and consciousness itself, or not.
  • Can there be a form of consciousness which comes without any mind-body integrating mechanisms such as some kinesthetic senses of feedback, including some emotions (perhaps even just so simple emotions such as the pleasure-pain mechanism)? Should there be medical specializations for addressing the mental health issues of tables? of electric switches? of computers?
  • Could, by any stretch of imagination, the elementary consciousness (as proposed by panpsychists) be volitional in nature?
  • Should there be a law to protect the rights of your credit card? of your spectacles? of your T-shirt? of a tape-recorder? of your laptop? of an artificial neural network running on your laptop?
  • To those who are knowledgeable about ancient Indian wisdom regarding the spiritual matters, and wish to trace panpsychism to it: If a “yogi” could do “tapascharyaa” even while existing only as an “aatmaa” i.e. even when he is not actually alive, then why should he at all have to take a birth? Why do they say that even “deva”s also have to take a human birth in order to break the bonds of “karma” and thereby attain spiritual purity?

More than three thousand words (!!) but sometimes it is necessary. In any case, I just wanted to finish off this topic so that I could return full-time to Data Science. (I will, however, try to avoid this big a post the next time; cf. my NYRs—2019 edition [^].)


A song I like:
(Marathi) “santha vaahate krushNaa maai”
Lyrics: Ga. Di. Madgulkar
Music: Datta Davajekar
Singer: Sudhir Phadke

 

(A)theism, God, and Soul

TL;DR: The theism vs. atheism debate isn’t very important; the concept of soul is. To better understand soul, one has to turn to the issues pertaining to the divine. The divine is an adjective, not a noun; it is a modality of perception (of reality, by a soul); it is a special but natural modality that in principle is accessible to anyone. The faithful destroy the objectivity of the divine by seizing the concept and embedding it into the fold of religious mysticism; the materialists and skpetics help them in this enterprise by asserting, using another form of mysticism, that the divine does not even exist in the first place (because, to them, soul itself doesn’t).  Not all points are explicated fully, and further, the writing also is very much blogsome (more or less just on-the-fly).

Also see an important announcement at the end of this post.


This post has its origins in a comment which I tried to make at Anoop Verma’s blog, here: [^]. Since his blog accepts only comments that are smaller than 4KB, and since my writing had grown too long (almost 12 KB), I then tried sending that comment by email to him. Then, rather than putting him through the bother of splitting it up into chunks of 4KB each, I decided to run this comment at my own blog, as a post here.


After a rapid reading of Varma’s above-mentioned post [^], I was immediately filled with so many smallish seeds of thoughts, rushing in to me in such a random order, that I immediately found myself trapped in a state of an n-lemma (which word is defined as a quantitative generalization of “dilemma”). After idly nursing this n-lemma together with a cup of coffee for a while, both with a bit of fondness, I eventually found me saying to myself:

“Ah! And I don’t even know where to begin writing my comment!”.

Soon enough thereafter, I realized that the n-lemma persists precisely because I don’t know where to begin. … Begin. … Begin. … It’s Begin. … It’s the beginning! … Which realization then immediately got me recognizing that what is involved here belongs to the level of the basic of the basics—i.e., at the level of philosophic axioms.

Let me deal with the issue at that level, at the level of axiomatics, even though this way, my comment will not be as relevant to Varma’s specific post as it could possibly have been. But, yes, if I could spell out where to begin, then the entire problem would have been at least half-conquered. That’s because, this way, at least an indication of (i) the nature of the problem, and (ii) of its context, would have been given. As they say, a problem well defined is a problem half solved.


My main rhetorical point here is: It isn’t really necessary for one to try to get to know what precisely the term “god” means. By itself, it even looks like a non-issue. Mankind has wasted too much time on the issue of god. (Here, by “god,” I also include the God of Christianity, and of any other monotheistic/other religion.)

I mean to say: you could have a logically complete philosophy, and therefore could live a logically complete (i.e. “fullest” etc.) life, even if you never do come across the specific word: “god.”

(BTW, you could have completeness of life in this way only if you weren’t to carry even an iota of faith anywhere in your actual working epistemology. … Realize, faith is primarily an issue from epistemology, not metaphysics; the consequences of faith-vs-reason in morality, religion, society, organized religion, and politics are just that—only consequences.)

So, it isn’t really necessary to know what god means or therefore even to search for one—or to spend time proving its presence or absence. That’s what I think. Including “wasting” time debating about theism vs. atheism.

But it is absolutely necessary, for the aforementioned logical completeness to be had, to know what the term “soul” means—and what all it presupposes, entails, and implies.

Soul is important.

When it comes to soul, you metaphysically have one anyway, and further, theoretical questions pertaining to its existence and identity (or a research pertaining to them) logically just does not arise. The concept is a fundamental self-evident primary—i.e. a philosophic axiom. (Of course, there have been people like David Hume, but I am focusing here mainly on establishing a positive, not on polemics.)

As I said in the past [^][^], soul, to me, is an axiomatic concept.


Now, like in any other field of knowledge and endeavor, the greater the extent and refinement of your knowledge (of something), the better is your efficacy (in that regard). In other words, the better off you are.

Ditto, with regard to this concept too.

A case in point: Suppose you yourself were capable of originally and independently reaching that philosophical identification which is contained in Ayn Rand’s axiom “existence exists,” and suppose that you held it in a truly in-depth manner, i.e. qua axiom. Just assume that. Just assume, for the sake of argument, that you were the one who reached that universal truth which is encapsulated by this axiom, for the first time in the world! But an axiom by itself is nothing if it isn’t tied-in non-contradictorily with all its prior cognitive preparation and logical implications. Suppose that you did that too—to match whatever extent of knowledge you did have. Now consider the extent and richness of the (philosophic) knowledge which you would have thus reached, and compare it to that which Ayn Rand did. (For instance, see Dr. Harry Binswanger’s latest post here [^] with a PDF of his 1982 writings here [^], which is a sort of like an obit-piece devoted to Ayn Rand.) … What do you get as a result of that comparison?

“What’s the point,” you ask?

The point is this: The better the integrations, the better the knowledge. The non-contradictorily woven-in relations, explanations, implications, qualifications, applications, etc. is what truly makes an axiom “move” a body of knowledge—or a man. And on this count, you would find Rand beating you by “miles and miles”—or at least I presume Varma would agree to that.

Realize, by the grace of the nature of man (including the nature of knowledge), something similar holds also for the concept of soul.

And here, in enriching the meaning, applications, etc. of this concept, you would find that most (or all) of the best material available to you has come to you from houses of spirituality, or for that matter, even of religion (by which, I emphatically mean, first and foremost (though not exclusively), the Indian religions)—not from Ayn Rand.


The extant materials pertaining to soul come from houses of spirituality and religion (or rarely, e.g. in the Upanishads, of ancient Indian philosophy). Given the nature of their sources—ancient, scattered, disparate, often mere notings without context, and most importantly, only in the religious or mystical context—it is very easy to see that they must have been written via an exercise of faith. This is an act of faith on the writer’s part—and sometimes, he has been nothing more than a mere scribe to what appears to be some inestimably better Guru, who probably wouldn’t have himself espoused faith or mysticism. But, yes, the extant materials on the philosophy of mind are like that. (Make sure to distinguish between epistemology and philosophy of mind. Ayn Rand had the former, but virtually nothing on the latter.) Further, the live sources about this topic also most often do involve encouragement to faith on the listener’s/reader’s part. They often are very great practitioners but absolutely third-class intellectualizers. Given such a preponderance of faith surrounding these matters, there easily arises a tendency to (wrongly) label the good with the poison that is faith—and as the seemingly “logical” next step, to dismiss the whole thing as a poison.

Which is an error. An error that occurs at a deep philosophic level—and if you ask me, at the axiomatic level.

In other words, there exists a “maayaa” (or a veil) of faith, which you have to penetrate before you can get to the rich, very rich, insights on the phenomenon of soul, on the philosophy of the mind.

Of those who declare themselves to be religious or faithful, some are better than others; they sometimes (implicitly) grasp the good part concerning the nature of the issue, at least partly. Some of these people therefore can be found even trying to defend religion and its notions—such as faith—via a mostly misguided exercise of reason! (If you want to meet some of them: People like Varma, being in India, would be fortunate in this regard. Just spend a week-end in a “waari,” or in an “aashram” in the Himalya, or at a random “ghaaTa” on a random river, or in a random smallish assembly under some random banyan or peepul tree…. You get the idea.)

Thus to make out (i.e. distinguish) the better ones from the rotten ones (i.e. the actually faithful among those who declare themselves to believe in faith), you yourself have to know (or at least continue keeping an unwavering focus on) the idea of  the“soul” (not to mention rational philosophic ideas such as reason). You have to keep your focus not on organized religion primarily, not even on religion … and not even, for that matter, even on spirituality. Your underlying and unwavering focus has to be on the idea of “soul,” and the phenomena pertaining to it.

You do that, and you soon enough find that issues such as atheism vs. theism more or less evaporate away. At least, they no longer remain all that interesting. At least, not as interesting as they used to be when you were a school-boy or a teenager.


The word “atheism” is derived from the word “theism,” via a negation (or at least logical complimentation) thereof. “Atheism” is not a word that can exist independently of “theism.”

Etymologically, “theism” is a corrupt form (both in spelling and meaning) of the original (historical) Western term “dei-ism,” which came from something like “dieu”, which came from a certain ancient Sanskrit root involving “d”.  The Sanskrit root “d” is involved in the stems that mean: to give, and by implication and in appropriate context, also to receive. It is a root involved in a range of words: (i) “daan,” meaning giving; (ii) “datta,” meaning, the directly presented (in the perceptual field)—also the given—and then, also the giver (man), in particular, the (bliss)-giving son of the sage “atri” and his wife “anasuya” (an_ + a + su + y + aa, i.e., one without ill-will (or jealousy or envy)), and (iii) “divya”, meaning, divine (the same “div” root!).

The absence in the Western etymologies of the derivation of the English word “divine” from the ancient “d,” “diue,” “div-,” etc. is not only interesting psychologically but also amply illuminating morally.

The oft-quoted meaning of “divya” as “shining, or glimmering” appears to be secondary; it seems to be rather by association. The primary meaning is: the directly given in the perception—but here the perception is to be taken to be of a very special kind. The reason why “shimmering” gets associated with the word is because of the very nature of the “divya-druShTi” (divine vision). Gleening from the sources, divine vision (i) seems to be so aetherial and evanescent, flickering in the way it appears and disappears, and (ii) seems to include the perceived objects as if they were superimposed on the ordinary perceptual field of the usual material objects “out there,” say in a semi-transparent sort of a manner, and only for a fleeting moment or two. The “shimmering” involved, it would seem, is analogous to the mirage in the desert, i.e. the “mrigajaLa” illusion. Since a similar phenomenon also occurs due to patterns of cold-and-dense and hot-and-rarefied air near and above an oil lamp, and since the lamp is bright, the “di”-whatever root also gets associated with “shining.” However, this meaning is rather by association; it’s a secondary meaning. The primary meaning of “divya” is as in the “specially perceived,” with the emphasis being on specially, and with the meaning of course referring to the process of perception, not to this perceived object vs. that.

Thus, “divya” is an adjective, not a noun; it applies to a quality of a perception, not to that which has thus been perceived. It refers to a form or modality of perception (of (some definite aspect of) reality). This adjective completely modifies whatever that comes after it. For instance, what is perceptible to a “divya”-“druShTi” (divine vision) cannot be captured on camera—the camera has no soul. The object which is perceived by the ordinary faculty of vision can be captured on camera, but not the object which is perceptible via “divya-druShTi.” The camera would register merely the background field, not the content of the divine vision.

(Since all mental phenomena and events have bio-electro-chemo-etc-physical correlates, it is conceivable that advancement in science could possibly be able to capture the content of the “divya-druShTi” on a material medium. Realize that its primary referent still would belong to the mental referents. A soul-less apparatus such as a camera would still not be able to capture it in the absence of a soul experiencing it.)

Notice how the adjective ”divya”, once applied to “druShTi”, completely changs the referent from a perception of something which is directly given to the ordinary vision in the inanimate material reality (or the inanimate material aspects of a living being), to the content of consciousness of an animate, soulful, human being.

This does not mean that this content does not refer to reality. If the “divya-druShTi” is without illusions or delusions, what is perceived in this modality of perception necessarily refers to reality. Illusions and delusions are possible with the ordinary perception too. It is a fallacy to brand all occurrences of “divya-druShTi” as just “voices” and “hallucinations/delusions/illusions” just because: (i) that mode of perception too is fallible, and (ii) you don’t have it anyway. (Here, the “it” needs some elaboration. What you don’t have (or haven’t yet had) is: a well-isolated instance of a “divya” perception, as a part of your past experience. That doesn’t mean that other people don’t or cannot have it. Remember, the only direct awareness you (a soul) have is of your own consciousness—not someone else’s.)


“deva” or “god” (with a small `g’) is that which becomes accessible (i.e. perceivable) to you when your perception has (temporarily) acquired the quality of the “divya.”

Contrary to a very widespread popular misconception, the word “divya” does not come from a more primary“dev”; it does not mean that which is given by “dev” (i.e. a god). In other words, in principle, you are not at the mercy of a god to attain the “divya” modality.

The primacy, if there is any at all, is the other way around: the idea of “dev” basically arises with that kind of a spiritual (i.e. soul-related) phenomenon which can be grasped in your direct perception when the modality of that direct perception carries the quality of the “divya.” (The “d” is the primary root, and as far as my guess-work goes, a likely possibility is that both the “di” (from which comes“divya”) and the “de” (from which comes the“dev”) are off-shoots.) T

This special modality of perception is apparently not at all constant in time—not to most people who begin to have it anyway. It comes and goes. People usually don’t seem to be reaching a level of mastery of this modality to the extent that they can bring it completely under their control. That is what you can glean from the extant materials as well as from (the better ones among) the living people who claim such abilities.

Yet, in any case, you don’t have to have any notion of god, not even thereby just meaning “dev,” in order to reach the “divya.” That is my basic point.

Of course, I realize that those whose actual working epistemology is faith and mysticism, have long, long ago seized the idea of “dev” (i.e. god), and endowed it with all sorts of mystical and irrational attributes. One consequence of such a mystification is the idea that the “divya” is not in the metaphysical nature of man but a mystical gift from god(s). … An erroneous idea, that one is.


A “divya” mode of perception is accessible to anyone, but only after developing it with proper discipline and practice. Not only that, it can also be taught and learnt, though, gleening from literature, it would be something like a life-time of a dedication to only that one pursuit. (In other words, forget computational modeling, engineering, quantum physics, blogging… why, even maths and biology!)

In the ancient Indian wisdom, the “divya,” “dev,” and the related matters also involve a code of morality pertaining to how this art (i.e. skill) is to be isolated and grasped, learnt, mastered, used, and taught.

Misuse is possible, and ultimately, is perilous to the abuser’s own soul—that’s what the ancient Indian wisdom explicitly teaches, time and again. That is a very, very important lesson which is lost on the psychic attackers. … BTW, “veda”s mention also of this form of evil. (Take a moment to realize how it can only be irrationality—mysticism and faith in particular—which would allow the wrongful practitioner to attempt to get away with it—the evil.)


The “divya” mode is complementary to the conceptual mode of perception. (Here, I use the term “perception” in the broadest possible sense, as meaning an individual’s consciousness of reality via any modality, whether purely sensory-perceptual, perceptual, or conceptual—or, now, “divya”-involving).

Talking of the ordinary perceptual and the “divya” modalities, neither is a substitute for the other. Mankind isn’t asked to make a choice between seeing and listening (or listening and tasting, etc.). Why is then a choice brought in only for the “divya”, by setting up an artificial choice between the “divya” and the ordinary perceptual?

Answer: In principle, only because of faith.

To an educated man living in our times, denying the existence of the divine (remember, it’s an adjective, not a noun) most often is a consequence of blindly accepting for its nature whatever assertion is put forth by the (actually) faithful, the (actually) mystic, to him. It’s an error. It may be an innocent error, yet, by the law of identity, it’s an error. Indeed, it can be a grave error.

The attempt to introduce a choice between the ordinary perceptual and the “divya”-related perceptual is not at all modern; from time immemorial, people (including the cultured people of the ancient India) have again and again introduced this bad choice, with the learned ones (Brahmins, priests) typically elevating the “divya” over the ordinary perceptual. Often times, they would go a step even further and accord primacy to the “divya.” For instance, in India, ask yourself: How often have you not heard the assertion that“divya-dnyaana” (the divine knowledge, i.e., the conceptual knowledge obtained via the divine modality of perception) is superior to the “material” knowledge (i.e. the one obtained via the ordinary modalities of perception)? This is a grave error, an active bad.

The supposed “gyaanee”s (i.e. a corrupt form of “dnyaani”, the latter meaning: the knowledgeable or the wise) of ancient India have not failed committing this error either. They, too, did not always practice the good. They, too, would often both (i) mystify the process of operating in the “divya” mode, and (ii) elevate it above the ordinary perceptual mode.

Eventually, Plato would grab this bit from some place influenced by the ancient Indian culture, go back to Greece, and expound this thing as an entire system of a very influential philosophy in the West. And, of course, Western scholars have been retards enough in according originality of the invention to Plato. But the Western scholars are not alone. There are those modern Indian retards (esp. the NRIs (esp. Californians), Brahminism-espousers, etc.) too, who clamor for the credit for this invention to be restored back to the Indian tradition, but who themselves are such thorough retards that they cannot even notice in the passing how enormously bad that philosophy is—including, e.g., how bad this kind of a view of the term “divya” itself represents. (Or, may be, they get attracted to the Platonic view precisely because they grasp that it resonates with their kinds of inner motives of subjugating the rest of us under their “intellectual” control.)


Finally, though I won’t explicate on it, let me revisit the fact that the “divya” mode also is every bit as natural as is the ordinary mode. Nothing supernatural here—except when the faithful enter the picture.

In particular, speaking of the “divya” (or the original meaning of the term “divine”) in terms of the never-approachable and mystical something—something described as “transcendental,” belonging to the “higher dimensions,” something literally supposed to be “the one and the only, beyond all of us,” etc.—is ridiculous.

However, inasmuch as the “divya” modality is hard to execute, as with any skill that requires hard-work to master,  the attainment of the “divya” too calls for appropriate forms of respect, admiration, and even exaltation and worship for some (provided the notion is not corrupted via mysticism or faith). … This looks gobbledygook, so let me concretize it a bit. Just because I regard such things natural, I do not consider them pedestrian. One does not normally think of greeting a saintly man with a casual “hey dude, whatssup, buddy?” That is the common sense most everyone has, and I guess, it is sufficient.


Already too long a comment… More, may be later (but don’t press me for it).


An Important Announcement:

I had decided not to blog any more until the time that I land a job—a Mechanical Engineering Professor’s job in Pune. That’s why, even as continuing to make quite a few comments at other people’s blogs, I did not post anything new here. I wanted the readers’ eyes to register the SPPU Mechanical Engineering Professors’ genius once again. And then, again. And again.

And again.

Now that I have updated this blog (even if I have not landed a job this academic hiring season), does it mean that I have given in to the plan of their genius?

Answer: No. I have not. I have just decided to change my blogging strategy. (I can’t control their motives and their plans. But I can control my blogging.)

With this post, I am resuming my blogging, which will be, as usual, on various topics. However, a big change is this: Whenever I feel like the topic of my last post isn’t getting the due attention which it deserves, I will simply copy-paste my last post, and re-post it as a brand new post once again, so that the topic not only gets re-publicised in the process but also reclaims back the honor of being the first post visible here on this blog.

Genius needs to be recognized. Including the SPPU Mechanical Engineering Professors’ (and SPPU authorities’) genius.

I will give them that.


A Song I Like:

(Old Rajasthani Hindi) “nand-nandan diThu paDiyaa, maaee, saavaro…”
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: (Traditionally asserted as being an original composition by) Saint Meera
Music: Hridaynath Mangeshkar

 

[I have streamlined this post a bit since its publication right today. I may come back and streamline it further a bit, may be after a day or two. Finished streamlining on 2016.09.09 morning; I will let the remaining typos and even errors remain intact as they are, for these would be beyond mere editing and streamlining—these would take a separate unit of thinking for explanation or even to get them straightened out better.]

[E&OE]

What is the soul?

I ended my last post by asking you whether you were entertaining the possibility of astrology as a valid idea. Were you?

Ummm… Regardless, I am going to write further, on more ideas of similar nature. For instance, this question:

What is the soul?

Here is an indication of the cluttered drawer that currently is my mind, concerning this question. No, I haven’t tried to put it in any order. (Why not? Possibly, it’s because I don’t care for you. I am irresponsible. I am bad.)

I will not attempt to define this term (“soul”), i.e., define it in terms of some other terms. I have over the years attempted doing so, and at last have conquered this highly alluring temptation. I conquered it by taking the soul to the most fundamental level in philosophy: at the level of axioms. [An axiom is a concept or a principle that has to be taken for granted before any thinking or discussion can ensue. A philosophical axiom is a (a) self-evident (b) fundamental (c) primary (i.e. unanalyzable concept).]

The soul is the “I” in the statement: “There is something that I am aware of”:

  • There (in space-time)
  • is (being in existence)
  • There is (Existence)
  • something (Identity)
  • that (an abstract level; contrast: “of which I am aware”)
  • that … of (Primacy of Existence)
  • I (To Ayn Rand: Consciousness qua faculty; also man the integrated being. To me: Also in addition: the Soul.)
  • am (To Objectivists: the Focus as the beginning point of knowledge and epistemology. To me: in fact also in addition the axiom of life)
  • aware (To Ayn Rand and to me: Consciousness qua a state of Awareness)
  • that—of (To me: An unnecessary appendage inserted into the English language by the British and the Americans so that people like me would continue to have difficulty with their language all their life, and so, couldn’t possibly compete with them, in any sphere of life.)

But why the hell should someone go on just being aware, in the first place? So, let’s try something more lively (and tasty).

There was a (Marathi) “peru” I wanted to eat. I saw it. I reached for it. I ate it. It tasted good. I am satiated. (The British and Americans: You try a peach or an apple.)

In this sequence of statements, wherever the term “I” came in, the Soul came in, too. (Dear Objectivist, you mean to say you had never noticed it before? (LOL!))

OTOH, it wasn’t just the soul that came in. The soul cannot see anything, it cannot grab anything, it cannot taste anything. The doer actually was the integrated being that is the individual living man that is me.

The Indian term for this metaphysical integration (in the sense I take the term) is: “yoga” (which is not pronounced as “yogaa” (and Indians are more guilty for the continued perpetration of this crime than are the Americans)).

I often differ from Indian tradition(s).

The soul has no feelings. (Dear Indians, this is the place where I most saliently differ from you.) Feelings arise only in the context of consciousness, which arises only in the context of life. The soul has no desires.

The soul is not “just a bundle of” desires. (That’s just an empiricist position—not because of the involvement of desires or feelings, but simply because: a primary being is being described via a “bundle” of its attributes. Disintegration. That’s what this position indicates.)

The soul is not even a stand-alone and integrated existing instance of desires. It is an integration, but not of anything to do with consciousness, e.g. desires.

The soul is an integration of the pre-desires (and don’t raise the issue of their origin (turtles!)) and the pre-dispositions (which, I know, are acquired by the Soul itself, during a life-time).

The soul requires life to become a metaphysically active causal agent. A soul without life is in a state of a passive kind of an existence. Not exactly passive, because there also is a dormant potential for a striving for perfection built into its state, but it is only a dormant potential. It’s in a frozen state, so to speak. It needs the warmth of the life to make its potential participate in actions—whether in the physical realm or in the spiritual realm.

To Ayn Rand, it seems, life was not an un-analyzable and self-evident primary. To me, in a certain sense, it is. (However, my thinking on this count isn’t yet clear enough.)

To the ancient Indian tradition, man—the individual living man—is an integration of soul, life and body. I accept this position (I mean, using the terms only in the respective senses in which I take them).

The soul is the soul-wise identity of a man. Repetition? Just because it’s an axiom.

The soul does have identity (and the usage is to be taken in the Objectivist sense—in the sense that each soul is an identity.)

The soul does cause life-times, but I am not sure whether it causes the principle of life itself. Is life an axiom? I don’t know. (Dear Objectivists, yes, I do entertain this question. I really am not an Objectivist.)

The soul is not the unconscious. It is the pre-conscious.

The unconscious refers to the conscious for its definition. The soul does not require consciousness to exist. It requires consciousness only in order to achieve its goals better.  In fact, to achieve its goals, it does not even metaphysically require consciousness. At the most fundamental metaphysical level, it only needs life.

By rejecting the unconscious from the soul, I think I have emptied a lot of Western garbage about it (and also the Eastern one). Allow me to continue. I also empty the sub-conscious from the soul. The sub-conscious is just a part of consciousness—with time-varying content.

The goal of a living being is not “just” to live; it is: to satiate the soul.

Life is not an end in itself (and here I again differ from Ayn Rand); the satiation of a soul is the end of life. The satiation of different desires arising due to the integrated pre-dispositions and pre-desires that the soul carries.

What is the ultimate goal for a soul? I differ once again from the Indian tradition.

  • It is not a merging with the God, or even becoming a God.
  • It also is not a mastery over Existence: How can an aspect/attribute of something ever possibly be master of that same thing of which it is just an attribute? (Try: the blueness of the ink trying to become a master of the ink.)
  • It is not even mastery over just the physical universe: How can one attribute ever be a master of another attribute? (Try: the blueness of the ink trying to be a master of its fluidity.)

The ultimate goal for a soul, I therefore think, can only be: to be the most satiated. Which means, if taken in a mathematically limiting sense, to be so satiated as not to have any possibilities of any potential for any further satiations left. (BTW, a limiting process does require a preferred direction, and thus does imply a goal.)

So the Ultimate Goal for the Soul now becomes: the metaphysically most complete state of satiation, without any element of any unsatiation in any respect ever left.

How would you describe the state of reaching of that goal? I don’t know. But I guess the answer may be: When it is one with the soul-plenum. I mean to say: If you accept the idea that there is a plenum for souls (just the way there is a plenum for physical bodies), and if it is some kind of internal tensions (or state with pre-desires) propel the soul to grow, the only state in which the tension would cease to exist is when the soul becomes one with the entire plenum. The soul doesn’t die, really speaking—it has no life. But it does have states other than the basic existential state that is only to exist. Again, on this point, I have to think further. But it is clear to me that there are only individual souls, and no super-soul, and that the soul is outside of space and time and the physical world, and that there are rebirths. Teleology is deceptive: It appears simple, but is damn difficult to deal with—correctly.

I don’t know if that is what (at least some of the) ancient Indians have meant by terms such as the (“mahaa mahaa”) “moksha” and the (“mahaa mahaa”) “nirwaaNa”. Even if they did, there have been any number of retards—Indian, Middle-Eastern, Middle-Western, Western, Eastern, Far-Eastern, Whatever-Directionan/Place-an—to interpret terms like these in any number of irrational ways. The most salient error involves ascribing to life (and its attributes) what rests with (or is attribute of) soul. And, make an ethics and politics out of it. For example: annihilate pleasure—that’s “moksha”. Can’t do that? Suppress pleasure—that’s “moksha”. The direction from this point on can only be downhill. And these retards do go all the way down. Also throw humanity down that way.

BTW, did you know what the term “moksha” means? The easiest way to approach its true meaning is via astrology (!), even though it is not the best. But as soon as one says astrology, who really cares for anything else? Not at least initially, anyway. So, we go with the astrological approach first.

In astrology, the nature of the houses repeats, three times, this particular sequence of the four (in the order given): “dharma”, “artha”, “kaama”, “moksha”. Following my own ideas, and in brief: “dharma” (here) means: the nature, the identity, the cause, of a certain pre-desire (and note, I said, a pre-desire; not a desire—and that’s where I differ from the Indian tradition); “artha” means the act of looking around in this physical world so as to identify the physical object whose nature matches the nature of that particular pre-desire, and thus translating the pre-desire into the conscious terms as a desire; “kaama” means taking action to satisfy that desire, and to actually enjoy it; “moksha” means mentally translating the experience (mostly emotional) of the mental and bodily satiation into the soul-like (or pre-desire-some) terms, i.e. taking the experience into the soul, so to speak, thereby helping retire that pre-desire of the soul. The cycle repeats three times, with somewhat differing modulations and at different levels: the matters of the childhood and the early youth, (first four houses); those of the youth and the early mature adult (the next four); and those of a fully mature adult (the last four). So, you know what “moksha” means: it is the change of the state of the soul in different ways: “sukha” (accessible also to a child), “aShtama” (properly speaking, ”kundalini”, accessible to a man only after coming to an age), and “vyaya” (accessible only after mature adult-hood). Those are the levels in normal course and for the general case—i.e., after allowing for exceptions (like Dnyaaneshwara).

But of course, the best way to know the meaning of “moksha” would be via etymology. Here, I don’t know, but guess, that the roots could be: “mu:” + ”ksha”. “mu” means bond, and “much_” means letting go, to let fall, to let go away. (Remember “pramuchchate”?) So I guess, “mu” means that bond which is about to break or at least a bond that can be broken. “ksha” means to waste away, to pine away, and also, loss. (“kshama:” is a verb that means: to endure; “ma” means: happiness, emotional calmness, stability. “kshama:” means: to maintain mental balance or calm despite loss or damage. “kshamaa” means the quality of character that comes by following such action.) So, “moksha” (and, as usual, not “mokshaa”) should mean (though don’t take my word for it (I am careless etc.)): loss of a bond that could be broken or was about to break.

In particular, “moksha” emphatically is not the same as “mukti”; it is the latter that means freedom. “moksha” properly translates only to the breaking of a bondage.

But bondage of what? bonded to what? “moksha” by itself has no root whatsoever indicating an answer to these questions. The intelligent Indian retards have put forth “desires” as the answer. (Yes, a retard can be intelligent, esp. if he is an Indian.)

In contrast, in my thinking, the term must attach to the pre-desires.

The Ultimate Goal of a Soul, then, is to attain the Most Satiated State by retiring all the pre-desires.

I don’t know if what was described in the last sentence is metaphysically possible. I have no speculation to offer on this count either. (Yes, I am irresponsible. Also, careless.)

To me, the soul is always the individual soul. There is no metaphysical conscious being whose splinters the individual souls are. If at all you wish to entertain the idea of splinters, make sure to know that IMO the soul is not conscious, and so, what you are talking about can only be the splinters of the apersonal plenum. Why not consider them as the distinct, isolated conditions in that plenum?

Consciousness is nothing but a sophisticated means that the principle of life has caused to come into being, and a conscious being uses. How did it happen? I don’t know. Any speculation? The only way it could have happened would be under the direction of the more evolved souls—directing their own bodies, I mean. And then, passed on to the rest of us, as a faculty, via persistent modifications to the genes. (Such modifications is a very slow process but one with discretely identifiable steps. And, it is the individual soul-directed process, in my scheme.)

What does that imply? A soul can modify the physical world (including the genes), in its own “image”. Evolution refers to this fact. Nothing is random. Randomness cannot metaphysically exist (just the way a void cannot metaphysically exist). At the same time, I also reject the idea of a Supreme Commander Sitting Up There and Directing the evolution down below.

An imperfect soul must have something like a state of tension or stress built into itself; but this does not mean it even feels that. All that it means is that it, by a causal metaphysical law, this soul must take birth before it can release it. And, during those life-times, its rate of improvement should be “proportional” to how evolved he is on his (Soul-ic) perfection scale. I agree with Ayn Rand that perfection is a moral term and that perfection is achievable. I only suggest (though still have to think this thing through) that there also is a certain metaphysical sense to the term “perfection” and that the moral principle traces its root not just to life but also to the axiom of the soul.

The soul does mould life, but the moulding is not to be taken in the active, or verb-like sense. If you know calculus, the soul moulds life only via setting up the initial conditions for the system evolution (or the living being’s actions). Thus, it is the state of the soul at birth that moulds the nature of the actions of/in an individual’s life. The actions proper belong only to life, not to soul; the soul, however does have a state.

Since you don’t know my unpublished mathematical poutings, apart from the initial and boundary conditions, there also is a possibility of the continuing conditions. The soul also gets affected by life, qua its state. If not, its teleological evolution across life-times would have been impossible.


Other notes:

When I say “the” soul, I sometimes mean not a specific instance of a particular soul, but the principle of soul. I try to use “a” soul to mean the former. If I make confusing usage, the inconsistency is due to the roughness of the draft writing, as well as to my poor English. But, in any case, I never mean something Platonic (or  pre-Platonic, or post-Platonic) such as, say, the “global” soul, the “mahaa” soul that encompasses all the souls within itself.

The context should make clear the places where I borrow from others (esp. from the Indian tradition), and where I put forth my own philosophizations. If in doubt at some place, and also troubled about it: ask me!

All the philosophical debts are acknowledged, whether explicitly or not. (This is just a blog post; not a monograph.) The trouble isn’t there. The trouble is on the other hand: a philosopher may interpret some of my points in the light of some philosophical tradition that I am not even aware of, and so accuse me—not of plagiarism, but of some position that actually is not mine. Possible. They—the philosophers—are always like that. Well, not always, but mostly, anyway.

I am unreliable. I may modify my views any time. For instance, I have no clarity on whether life should be an axiom, and what exactly the relation between life and soul (in my sense of the term) is. I will continue thinking about such things off and on, the way I have for such a long time—since high-school. However, though I am unreliable and irresponsible, I will let this post stay here. I will not delete it.

OK, enough of this write-up. As usual, I may come back and edit this post a bit—but only for grammar/typos, not for altering ideas.

 

[E&OE]