I am back in Colorado after a winter road trip, which gave me lots of time to listen to podcasts—and if the snow and sub-zero weather weren’t punishment enough, I survived long stretches of the interstate staying woke with Sam Harris. With miles to go before I slept, I let the pummeling of reason tumble through my skull, like the thumping of a clothes dryer with a shoe in it, sensors optimizing drying time for the absence of moisture. It was often necessary to defog the windows. I wore thermal underwear and thick boots.
What can I say about Uncle Sam? I’m with Doug, actually, in my basic appreciation that he talks about consciousness, ethics, truth, psychedelics, evolution, etc.—and seems to take his responsibility as a public intellectual seriously. He is really good at what he does, which hinges on polemic and debate, and I think that listening to him forces me to deal with issues I might otherwise gloss over, which to me are just not worth fighting about. He forces me at least to pay attention to them.
For example, in the talk with Metzinger, the question of the intelligibility of consciousness comes up. Both Harris and his analytical philosophical guest seem to be of the persuasion that not only must consciousness ultimately be intelligible, but that it is of the utmost value to pursue a formal explanation. In Metzinger’s case, he believes that an understanding of consciousness will allow us to understand whether and how a conscious entity can be manufactured. How would we know if a machine is having a conscious experience if we don’t have a scientific account of how consciousness comes into being? It can’t just be magic or mythic; we do need a mental account of consciousness, as well as an integral one, I believe. It’s worth researching and thinking about, certainly! I have no problem with the modeling and mapping of the brain, looking for the neural correlates of consciousness. Bring 'em on!
Yet, as others have noted, the mental/rational account of consciousness—and its mode of discourse, in general—is not the only legitimate or important one. I thought Eric Weinstein, from the infamous WU podcast episode 41, made this case quite well. I was really impressed with him, and followed up with a couple of his YouTube videos, and feel like he’s someone I could learn from. He was really being very kind to Sam in trying to get him off his rationalistic fixation. It’s no accident, I believe, that he (Weinstein) offered a “4-quadrant” map of highest order values that includes but is not limited to “truth.” In Weinstein’s model, the ultimate value of the pursuit of truth (as objective knowledge) must be balanced with meaning, fitness, and grace. I felt that Weinstein (like any integral thinker) was much more fluid in moving between these distinct dimensions of value. I’d say his mind is “metamodern.” Harris, however, couldn’t quite be brought to see his own bias. The other dimensions must always somehow submit (helplessly, he says) to a validity claim in the court of reason.
Weinstein includes “The Creator” in his process of mathematical discovery. Harris can’t get his mind around this. He can only see “The Creator” as a mythical construct. He doesn’t understand the spiritual perspective; in fact, he denies it. What Weinstein was arguing is that a good mathematical equation is not only true, but also meaningful, elegant, and adaptive. This is also what Edward Frenkel is saying—and it makes me more than curious, it awakens a longing in me, to learn what they know about math and physics. I am realizing how much I myself have fixated on the romantic and poetic—on emotional truth (in both the best and deficient senses)—while subtly denying and discounting the world of number. I would love to bring these worlds together in my writing and public expression.
Julie Yau also has important insight to add to the question of consciousness. How much of what we call history is driven by trauma? What if being is trauma? Then the history of being would be a history of trauma. Thus to wake up into being would be to wake up to our historical trauma—snap out of it. In our @spheres conversation later this week, we will be talking about how the experience of the “long-distance closeness” of the dead is what drives the expansion of spheres, from intimate relationships to larger groups, which grow power through internalizing ruptures and threats. This is the kind of account which I don’t think is amenable to pure reason in Sam Harris’ definition; or at least, it’s not usually well communicated in that format. (There are exceptions, such as the great Carl Sagan, and moments when even Sam Harris borders on the lyrical—through these are few and far between.)
I believe this brings us back to our alternate ways of knowing…and how do we know that we know? And what’s that like? And what does it mean? And what is it good for? And where are we when we’re in the miracle of the monstrous? (I’m looking at the man in the mirror.)
@patanswer, it’s good to see you here, as always. I am sorry to hear about your step-mom and dad. I know you know—as you so poignantly wrote—that the point of the game is not determined by whether or not one wins against a computer. Perhaps there is an algorithm that reminds us to be thankful for the life we have…