Sunday, January 6, 2013

Physical Things



- What's new?
- I made another enemy.
- Who, this time?
- A professor and, according to polls, the number one public intellectual in the world.
- What did you do?
- We we corresponding by email on the subject of whether mind could be considered an effect of organized matter no different from attraction and repulsion.
- What did he say?
- That no one could say what a physical thing is, so we can't say what a mental thing is either. We observe it like we observe attraction and repulsion between things, we talk about it like we talk about gravity between planets and repulsion among particles.
- And you?
- I pointed out that attraction and repulsion are part of stories of the relation between things that have something in common with each other. We can imagine we'll find a connection from one to the other, because we know how the pieces they are made up of do communicate motion to each other. If two things are like each other in some ways, some third unknown thing may be like them both in some way and connect them.
- Does that matter?
- Yes, because it is a program of research. Now look at the mental things beauty, love, justice or equality. What do the parts of these experiences have in common with the parts of the brain?
- I don't understand.
- No wonder: people who observe them carefully report that these mental things have no parts.
- So you want us to look for the third thing, like them both in some way, that mental and physical things have in common?
- Yes.
- What kind of thing would that be?
- A story.
- You said that to the Professor?
- Yes. If we are going to participate in the scientific program we need to look for relations between things that have something in common.
- But there is plenty of research about the connection of body and mind.
- This part of the brain affects this part of the mind.
- Yes.
- That research is not about how the physical thing brain makes, for example, the mental thing "beauty".
- You make someone experience pleasure by stimulating a part of the brain.
- How does that happen?
- What do you mean? You do it, and it happens.
- Like you move a planet, and another planet moves.
- Yes.
- But we can imagine something not presently known that connects the two planetary movements, that passes the movement on.
- That's what you mean by how?
- Yes.
- But maybe we cannot find it.
- The professor raises that possibility.
- You don't agree?
- I think that the problem with accepting action at a distance, the reason the greatest scientists have resisted accepting it, is that it implies exactly what we are talking about here.
- What?
- That the connection between mind and body will also be closed to investigation.
- But it is not closed! Research is making new discoveries all the time.
- Close research into the how of the connection.
- But what difference does that make?
- Plenty. There are two different problems here. First: mental things have nothing in common with physical things. Second, the nature of the connection is not explored. Physical things do have something in common, and their connection can be explored, even if presently unknown.
- So are you saying it is impossible to know how beauty is created by the brain?
- No. I think it can be done, and the problem is that if we don't look for explanation of the how of contact at a distance in the relations between physical things, we won't look for them in the more difficult problem of the how of contact between mental and physical things.
- What is so important knowing how beauty is created?
- Because knowing how beauty is created we can make our lives more beautiful.
- So you want us to start doing something like looking for what transmits the movement of one planet to another. But haven't you said that we can't find a third element between mental things and physical things to connect them?
- We can if we analyze mental things and physical things into parts which both mental and physical things share.
- I'm trying to understand. The parts you are talking about connecting are not part of brain to part of mind?
- No. I mean describing mental things in language which is part physical, part mental, and doing the same for physical things.
- How is that possible?
- By telling a story, using a vocabulary applicable to both mental and physical things: open and closed, rest and motion
- Give me an example.
- The mental thing love is made up of: open self,  closed world,  when at rest.  And: Closed self, open world, when in motion.
- Strange.
- Let's leave it for now. What I wanted to show the professor was that it can be done.
- What did he say?
- That is was only a metaphor. The problem remained. No one knows what a physical things is, so no one knows what a mental thing is.
- What did you answer?
- That I was making a model of real experience I had observed as carefully as I could, and that the greatest philosophers had made similar models.
- What did he answer?
- He said he couldn't follow what I was trying to say.  Do you?
- Actually, I think I do. What's his problem?
- I can use my model to give an explanation, but it wouldn't mean anything to someone who won't consider the model.
- I'm listening.
- The model describes ethical and non-ethical action, ethical and non-ethical thought. Love is ethical thought. Ethical action is closed self, open world. The world of love is lost, the world you now live in is strange and undefined, but you remember about yourself what has worked for you in the past in situations like this, you use your habits, and try to get back to love. The non-ethical variation of action goes by the name of intoxication: you lose awareness of yourself, which appears powerless, as you follow rules given by the world that promise a rearrangement of the world in which you look forward to being powerful. The power obtained, you observe yourself. This is the non-ethical state of rest, and goes by the name Vanity, closed self, open world, a belief in one's power based on failing to look at any part of the world other than what has been placed in regular relation to your own habits of action. Well?
- I don't have any comment. As you say, maybe that a model can be made at all shows something.
- If a scientist does research for gaining a sense of power, he will not be able to understand descriptions of research done to return to love.
- According to the model.
- Or the Faust legend, if you prefer. In ethical action, mental things exist together with physical things without raising a problem, because the purpose of the action is outside itself, returning to love, to ethical thought. Research is focused on what kind of actions work to that end. It is not focused on relations between the mental things and physical things, such a rule would be useless, and that is true later when at rest.
- So you solve the problem of how by saying we don't have to be interested. Isn't that cheating?
- Not more than admitting we can't define either physical or mental things.
- I suppose.
- And we can answer the question of how. We just want to do it at the right time and in the right way, with the right vocabulary. The how is ethically.
- And vain and intoxicated professors can't understand. You're too much.