Where does the body end and the soul begin?
Is this question even meaningful?
We will now make a timorous poke at the heart of our meme theory, belief. There are many layers here that need to be examined in turn and yet as a whole. We are probing into the mystery of consciousness. Not as a static state or an empty property to be filled, rather, consciousness as a the awareness of self as possessor and processor of memes. As written in part one of these musings, we are built for believing, or at least for receiving, collating, and acting upon beliefs. Though our assessments are not made without a certain amount of both inbuilt and learned capacity to determine truthfulness, this does not mean our beliefs necessarily correspond with material or historical reality. We are generally good at judging the physical conditions of the world around us. If our ancestor did not accurately asses when a bear was advancing toward it and run away, we would not be here typing this now. But this example does not really describe belief. We do not believe a bear is chasing us, any more than we believe there is a keyboard and monitor before us. We know these things. We will see though that these direct experiences in determining material truths which are prior to belief are in fact the basis on which we build the more speculative and abstract beliefs we hold about the world and our place in it.
I suppose if we want to be pedantic, we have learned to trust our belief in the presence of the physical world. This is so intuitive, and is learned at such a young age, that we simply trust that this cup of coffee is before us on this desk without ever feeling the need to say, “I believe this cup of coffee is on this desk”. Even Descartes did not doubt the presence nor the persistence of the objects of sense. He merely doubted their nature. His was an Ontological crisis. For if the objects we sense are truly physical or if conversely they are immaterial as Berkeley had it in Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, what does it matter? If I leave my coffee here and can come back in an hour and it will still be here, though tepid, and not vanish or turn into a chicken, what does it matter how it exists? Hence, we effectively know and do not believe the objects of our senses exist. This makes rather short shrift of the perceptual theory that the early modern philosophers made their bread and butter on, but for our purposes here this will suffice as a starting point. We will unpack the issues of perception and cognition as we advance.
Ultimately we are interested in structures of belief, like religion, philosophy or held political and social theories. Admittedly there is a great distance between perception theory and complex belief structures. As this is a philosophical consideration we have to at least make some effort to show how such belief structures, or memeplexes, coalesce. In our meme theory this is more than a perfunctory exercise. At the very base of the theory is that at all levels, individual, cultural, and through the evolution of our tribal communities, our memetic development is constructed piece by piece slowly over time. Immediate physical perception may be the basis of our training in learning truth criteria, but we are nothing like consistent or precisely accurate truth assessing machines above these immediate perceptual experiences. Even here we only asses a very small portion of our surroundings at any given time, and not always accurately. Even these perceptions are not free from the memetic filter of past similar experiences, as Hume indicates. The thing is we move into the realm of speculation pretty quickly.
Let us put ourselves in the place of our ancestor confronted by a bear. We know we are there and we know the bear is there, we can even asses once the bear has seen us and has decided to advance aggressively that we had better find a way to safety, but in this decision to act we begin to enter into the first layer of beliefs proper. We are no longer just assuming the objects of perception are truly there, but we are speculating, mostly unconsciously still, how to act with and on them, over terrain, to secure our survival; “If I can make it through the narrow gap between those trees in that thicket the bear will not be able to follow easily”.
While running up a low slope away from our pursuer we become curious, for though its growl is angrier, we do not hear the sound of its paws padding toward us. Looking over our shoulder we notice now a fairly wide, deep, and swift-moving stream between. A being of very simple cognitive capacity may simply continue to run, and as a default recourse this is probably wise in most circumstances. For he may find safety, perhaps find a mate to grab and to grunt and to pass on his genes. And though I live in a world governed by Leftist lunacy, I am truly grateful for his simple ‘can do’ attitude.
But we have the ability to think more clearly, and to take the chance based on our sincere belief (near knowledge) that this bear is like every other bear we have seen, and though not afraid of the water, it cannot navigate a stream so swift, wide, and deep. Seeing us stop, the bear in its mad pursuit throws itself into the stream but is quickly carried downstream and only just manages to scrabble back up the bank several yards down. In the boldness of our belief, after our heart rate and breathing have returned to normal, we go to the edge of the stream and study our would-be destroyer. It too returns opposite us pacing the bank, and though intermittently lunging toward the water it holds itself back against its instinct to chase us. The bear now has a rudimentary kind of belief as well based on prior experience. No species of mammal could come into being if its ancestors did not learn quickly from their surroundings and modified their behaviour toward their own benefit.
Looking at the bear we begin to admire it, even ascribing personality to it more or less accurately. We understand its actions in terms of our our tribal mythology of the bear spirit. We believe this is a great blessing to stand so close to such a mighty creature which without the stream we would still be running from in panic. Perhaps the stream is not too wide for us to throw our frustrated friend a fish from our pouch. This may seem a careless waste, but we believe it is as an important act of generosity, even a debt paid for undeserved fortune; a thank offering that we were not mauled. The salmon has taken our place ex post facto.
In this rather fanciful but not entirely fantastical story we can see several layers of belief unfold. From raw perception we go quickly to active real-time assessment of our surroundings through beliefs gathered from past experiences. We saw that reason can give us confidence to trust physical conditions to keep us safe. We saw that when time permits we take time to see our experiences under the filter of the mythos of our tribe. We place both the objects of our senses and our immediate relationship with them into a broader narrative structure. Even if we could identify the bear as Ursus arctos, and believed we understood it in purely scientific or evolutionary terms, we would only be ascribing the perhaps useful, but rather dull mythos of modernity to our experience.
A fundamental failure in understanding of the Enlightenment is that whole societies can believe utter fantasies and function just fine, even thrive. The inhabitants of these cultural memeplexes can live long meaningful lives. In fact, a profound trust in the reality of our social order and our place in it, is a necessary prerequisites for living a grounded purposeful and, when convenient, contented life.
We will have to consider what is meant by reality and truth before we finish. Modernity has a fairly tight definition of reality, or at least it supposes this for itself. It can often be found flattering itself in the bathroom mirror over its superlative epistemology. But even Russel and Sartre and Dawkins and their disciples live symbolically at their core, this is inescapable for humans. Our worlds coalesce as narrative, and these are always false on purely mechanical grounds. That this was ever a source of profound Psycho>Social anguish is bemusing. Silly. What a sad sad bunch of whiners most post-war 20th century thinkers were. Muh Existential Angst. Because they could not prove with word smithery that their hand was was really before their face, they decided to overthrow the world. Traditionalists have always been comfortable with uncertainty. We are after all naught but men. This is why revolution is always counter to Logos, as E Michael Jones shows.
Ego sum, ergo ego sum.
I am, therefore I am. This is a tautology, but all founding truths are, and so hold the status of axiom. They are boringly true, yet essentially true. Without them we cannot generate higher level speculative constructions. Descartes’ mental wrangling got him to Cogito ergo sum; which is not in fact an axiom but a conditional proposition. He makes his thinking the proof of his knowing that he exists. More, he implies that thinking is his existence. But what can you expect from a guy who spent so much time in bed sick or honouring himself; Descartes, the Paleo NEET. I am, therefore I am takes self-awareness of existence for granted. For of course there is a profound sense of being that is prior to particular thoughts or propositions. As soon as we form the words, “I think” we have already spoiled it. There is no greater proof in our existence in thinking than in eating, say. There is no quality in thinking that gives more surety of existence than any other activity our soul may perform. For even if our body is not real, or at least is not ‘real’ in the sense we assumed prior to encountering Cartesian doubt, it is still ever-present with us and consistent in its form and transformations through time, and more often than not obeys our will.
Descartes is satisfied to stop his discipline of doubt at thought, but this is rather cowardly. There is no reason, aside form fear of the void, not to doubt that we are the one doing the thinking. At best we can say is, if radical doubting is what we have chosen to do, that there is thinking going on. A critic says, “that is silly, we know we know we are in control of our own thoughts”, I will answer that I am in control of my hand as it reaches for my bourbon glass. For if we are to take Descartes’ doubt seriously about our bodies and perceptions that are intuitively inseparable from ourselves, by what logic, if any remains, can we claim our thoughts as part of ourselves in any real way? If this is not a reductio ad absurdum it is at least a reductio ad satietatem—reduction to boredom.
Consciousness is awareness of existence, but we wont say it is nothing more. For consciousness is a form of existence itself. Of the three Philosophers found in University texts on the Rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz) Descartes is the neurotic. Probably not unimportant in this is he is the only deconstructionist of the three. Spinoza and Leibniz engage in creative rational constructions from simples to conglomerates using the commonly discovered rules of logic. Interesting in the history of Philosophy that Descartes has had more influence than the other two. The deconstruction, the radical doubt, the focus on the interior experience of the individual, the implicit masturbation, these are all the potent social>spiritual memes of our time.
I started the Pineal Man comic in the 90’s but didn’t get too far with it, perhaps its time has come.