Saturday, October 11, 2014

an illusionary problem

Time for another common and intentional distortion of materialistic naturalism, despite the simplicity of its two short premises. First, anything supernatural doesn't exist...or if it does, then it's utterly undetectable and extraneous. Second, anything that exists is composed of matter, i.e. physical materials/energies/forces.

Before, I commented about the distortions that materialistic naturalism necessarily reduces human life to totally insignificant or predominantly negative. A third is that it carelessly discounts vital inner human experiences as illusions. "Inner experiences" refers to the broad gamut of essentially subjective phenomena: sensations, desires, fears, pleasures, pains, tales, dreams, ideals, identities, social ranks, memories, plans, judgments, inferences, and many more. Despite undeniable immediacy and relevance/salience, these don't appear to be objects composed of matter. These are on the "soul" side of the conventional dichotomy of soul vs. matter. In a single convenient word, these are examples of the category of mentality: mental occurrences which are often at least as vivid as any other reality.

Supposedly, mentality forces the potential followers of materialistic naturalism into an inhuman dilemma. Option one is to be "logically consistent" and concede the unsatisfactory far-fetched notion that mentality's existence is fake. Option two is to concede that mentality exists and be "logically inconsistent" with the premises. Neither option is appealing.

Of course, I reject this dilemma altogether. Consistent with past blog entries, my ongoing viewpoint is that mentality doesn't perfectly fit either of the clumsy classifications. First of all, it can't be purely fake or spiritual because it's too tightly enmeshed with plainly observable bodily matter, such as sensory organs and muscles that serve as its routine external inputs and outputs. And even its own "internal" work coincides exactly with the turbulent activity of still more bodily matter, such as nervous systems—especially brains. In no way is it disconnected or independent from realities composed of matter. To the contrary, unceasing dangers show repeatedly that healthful mentality is frighteningly vulnerable. It's equivalently disrupted or damaged whenever these bundles of matter are. (I once told a story about inflicting analogous destruction on a compact disc to establish that its matter encodes the data.) It can't be a mirage that somehow floats inside or above or around matter.

Nevertheless, I also recognize that a thoroughly materialistic substrate for the category of human mentality doesn't ensure that everything in it corresponds closely to materialistic realities. Specifically, its substrate is an organism. Therefore its form springs out of the same origin as the organism's form: evolution. Naturally, it didn't evolve to act as an excellent all-purpose tool for systematic investigation of microscopic minutiae or faraway galaxies; it evolved to levels of precision and accuracy that are "good enough" for the pertinent details of its organism's environmental niche. Its hastily applied generalizations, shortcuts, biases, and simplifications result from the usual evolutionary pressures for greater efficiency. Overall, its design isn't planned and organized but, well, organic. It showcases the usual tactic of reusing, reshaping, and recombining an existing set of primitive albeit time-tested parts. Its incoming flow of information is confined to "sensors" with ranges limited by cheapness—but admittedly ingenuous within the limits.

In the end, it has approximate projections which compromise between low cost and sufficient correctness. It projects temperatures as harsh visceral relative impressions for swiftly guiding an organism through its surroundings, not as exhaustive quantitative data for distinguishing and interpreting the complicated particle physics responsible. It projects acute injuries as sharp unmistakable bursts of unpleasantness, not as lengthy lists of minute diagnostic facts. On behalf of competitive evolutionary fitness, metaphorical hazy shadows on a cave wall are fine...provided the shadows have adequate fidelity to the source realities. (This point rehashes the past entry on the accuracy of an evolved brain.) If any "distorted" or "highly processed" or "incomplete" representation qualifies as an illusion, then illusion is all around; humans encounter and understand realities through the lens of mentality. The term "illusion" becomes worthless. Mentality is packed with illusions according to that overly broad definition.

Frankly, the definition of illusion doesn't need to be that uselessly broad to capture compelling examples. A narrower definition of blatant fiction will do, because human mentality isn't bounded by unoriginal reporting. It can be unreal, i.e. counterfactual. It can fantasize falsehoods. And it can ignorantly digest falsehoods just like realities, either accidentally or through malicious exploitation of its predictable inborn weaknesses. Yet falsehoods come in countless kinds that enrich lives too. Nonrepresentational works are priceless cultural artifacts. Novel inventions start as imaginings.

Thus some examples of mentality might have little resemblance to verified material stuff, while mentality itself nonetheless continues to be the result of material stuff. For instance, a particular house is the occasional setting of my dreams. It's an old wooden three-story house. Its exterior is too small to plausibly contain its numerous trinket-filled rooms and secret passageways. Since this house is in my dreams, it's not like a house that consumes space at a location. It's not a structure with a history or a future. It doesn't interact with anything else at all. I never remember sensing it while I'm awake and alert. It fails the mundane confirmations that sift realities from illusions—it's an illusion of the blatant fiction variety.

Regardless of its fictitiousness, this house illusion is actually embedded in the precious matter of a non-illusory object I like to call myself. That matter is arranged in a way that leads to the occasional, er, reconstruction of the house during sleep. The reconstruction is a process, and the house's lack of confirmed existence is incidental to the process as it's operating. A process that produces abundant distinct examples of realistic mentality can certainly produce examples of lesser realism as well. A mentality maker is a potential illusion maker. Suppose that the active matter is like a keyboard, and mentality is the music it emits. Then waking mentality is the tune played when assorted waking influences press the matter "keys". I drive to my residence, rays of light and sound waves reach my eyes and ears, and I perceive my familiar residence in my mentality. Cycles of dream-sleep, or any altered state, have differing influences pressing differing keys in abnormal patterns. Why couldn't the mentality "tune" be different? Why couldn't the tune be unusual....or discordant?

Ultimately I persist in following materialistic naturalism, notwithstanding my unpredictable dream visits to a counterfeit house. It and its fellow examples of mentality are matter masquerading as non-matter. Humans face everything via the sole point of view they have and cannot escape: their individual instance of mentality. But mentality is an imperfect exceedingly complex effect of the work of evolved but ordinary error-prone matter, so it's susceptible to wildly varying amounts of authenticity. That's why mentality or thoughts work best in a triangle of checks and balances along with actions and objects.

If, like earlier, projection can be a flawed but useful metaphor for mentality, then the house is an image on a metaphorical filmstrip (reminds me of a Sunday installment of Calvin and Hobbes that played with the idea that a weird dream is a sloppily spliced film). The projector, filmstrip, and the image on the filmstrip are all matter. Yet the image might be properly considered an illusion, depending on whether it came straight from a camera placed in front a house (eyes), a skilled impressionist painter (dreams), or the in-between case of a photograph that has been retouched and/or shoddily copied (aged memories). Materialistic naturalism doesn't blindly invalidate mentality as a whole. But it could cast reasonable doubt on mentality's customary overconfidence and self-importance: "I see things this way in my soul, and my soul outranks and thereby reinterprets every other source of information."  

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