Sunday, 29 March 2020

A Grand Metaphysical Experiment, Part the second!

Everybody still with us? Good. Everybody remembering to wash their hands and not to act like a c***? Even better.
Welcome back to the second part of the third instalment of my highfalutin cosmological speculations. Any readers who may have wafted past this blog before will probably recognise the general drift and even the particular language being used here. Any readers who have hitherto failed to waft in our direction – what in God’s name are you doing with your life? It cannot possibly be as interesting or important as the philosophical musings which regularly occur herein.
Come now, get your act together, stop whatever you’re doing and start paying attention to what we’re doing here. That’s better.
Here, then are the aforementioned cosmological musings; and here, as the heading says, is: 

2. The Story So Far
2.1 Physics and Metaphysics:
It starts with a scientific revolution: when the likes of Einstein, Heisenberg, and Schrodinger changed forever our understanding of the physical universe. Abandoning the mechanistic models of classical physics, that ‘great Newtonian fiction’ as Farrer called it, they supplied instead a new, dynamic conception, one in which even the warp and weft of space-time is vitalised, plays a full part in the mutually conditioning patterns of physical process that we now know is the cosmos.
Of course, a new physics – as Conti never tires of reminding me – demands a new metaphysics. And that is what it got. Farrer and Whitehead refashioned reality in Einstein’s image.  Whitehead’s process organicism found existence to be a matrix, a dynamic correlation of concrete conjunctions. Likewise, Farrer was ready to identify ‘[e]nergy, rather than stuff’ as the basic expression of existence.  The universe we know isn’t made of ‘solid and stupid lumps of physical matter’ banging and crashing about; it’s made of relatively stable patterns of energy or activity, ‘infinitely complicated, minute rhythms of active process.’
Real “being”, then, is no solid-state entity; it is full-blooded being-in-action. And being active, it is also fully interactive, a thing of co-constitutive, better still, inter-constitutive connections, mutual interplay. In Farrer’s Latin phrase, esse est operari.
‘Real “being”,’ here means ‘all real “being”.’ There are, as Conti says, ‘[n]o actualities without full and proper integration with other actualities, themselves in the process of becoming’.
No actualities.
Not even the enquiring agent, as the current trend in so-called ‘scientific determinism’ unconsciously presupposes.
From this, it follows that all our activities, our explorations and explanations, are themselves elements in that matrix of mutuality.
And not accidental ones either.
The universe is the universe it is, because it is constituted by the connections that do, as a matter of fact, constitute it, our acts are as integral to its existence as any and, in truth, every other.
So much Cassirer and Langer tell us: our myths and metaphors, stories and symbol systems, are themselves threads in the warp and weft of interpenetrating forces which is the universe. With a clear eye for the interpenetrative implications of this, Huxley described the universe as the ‘indispensable partner in [all our] mental and spiritual achievements.’

2.2 Analogies and Mythologies – and this is where the story really starts
The next part of the story concerns the analogies from which we construct our narratives about the universe.
Throughout human history, our attempts to navigate and ultimately gain control over the interacting forces of the cosmos have been tied up with our use of symbols to capture and conceptualise them. Our ancestors, Cassirer reminds us, populated the world with spirits and small gods. The branches of Frazer’s Golden Bough hang heavy with the ethnographic evidence, deities who had a hand in every department of human activity; the Romans’ Lares and Penates, for example, who saw that butter churned and bread rose in the oven.  As it was for the Romans, so it is for the modern speculative cosmologist.  Process, force, the whole nexus of space-time relations, all these are analogies. Of course, the astrophysicists’ analogies are not as explicitly personal as the Roman cook’s; but they are drawn from the same source. Where else, indeed, could they be drawn from? Our own capacity to act, to interfere with processes which are not our own, that is our standing example of causal agency.  It is, as even Hume might grudgingly acknowledge, the only instance of causal agency to which we have direct, unmediated access.  As such, it is also, necessarily, the model we use to conceive all others.
To repeat, the astrophysicists’ analogies are not full-bodied personal projects. Where our ancestors saw a multitude of personal agencies at work in the world, we have learned to pay what Farrer called ‘an indefinable discount’ on our analogical extensions. From the analogy of action we have vigorously stripped all the “higher” functions of consciousness and personal agency. Washed in the waters of scientific life, we cleanse our analogue of all but it’s most basic and primal components: energy, process, force.

2.3 Philosophical Psychology – this is where the story really starts
Here’s the next step: the philosophical psychology underpinning all this.
Farrer has given us the key already. Esse est operari: real being is interactive; in our case, consciousness, personal identity, is actualised in what we do. What other reliable criterion of knowledge or reality could there be? After all, without action we couldn’t distinguish ourselves or anyone else from a bunch of shop manikins.
Crucially, the roots of personal identity, of all the activities in which that is embodied, lie in the acts of those who cradled us and cared for us and showed us how to be conscious, active agents in the first place. We’re made to be cared for, as John Macmurray rightly says. The psychological evidence is undeniable. Personality does not spontaneously burst forth, it is invested in us.
It’s not just that we’re taught how to act.
Of course, we are; but also, and more fundamentally, we are taught to act. First, to control the body that is, for the infant, barely under control; then our desires and wishes: we learn to wait our turn, and be polite, and share, and wash occasionally; all the other things that make us bearable to be around.
And we are taught to think, or more precisely we are taught to speak. Talked into talking, we learn, as Farrer put it, to ‘talk silently to the images of the absent, or… pretend to be our own twin, and talk to ourself.’ In other words, we learn to think.  For ‘[t]hought is the interiorisation of dialogue’.
So the image of the other stakes its claim to the structure of those transactions, is internalised, instilling the “self” with what Feuerbach called ‘the inner life of man’. In so doing, the developing self, its needs, activities, and perspectives, are passed through the image of the other.  Being “filtered”, the “self” evaluates and re-evaluates itself, constructing and re-constructing itself, in relation to the other.  In other words, I learn to double myself, play the part of another within me. I become a “self” by learning to put myself in the place of the other, by re-enacting that place, that otherness.  Being Thou unto others, the “self” is, in a favourite Feuerbachian phrase, essentially ‘species being’. 

Come back in approximately another week, dear reader, and, zombie apocalypse permitting, you may well find the final chapter in this little adventure. In the meantime, let’s keep that species being thing going, by which I mean, wash your hands, keep a safe distance, and remember that other people are intrinsic elements of your selfhood. So try not to be a c***. 

Sunday, 22 March 2020

A Grand Metaphysical Experiment, Part the first!

A thousand apologies, dear reader, for the impromptu and almost entirely unexpected hiatus. For a variety of reasons, none of which are coronavirus related, work on this, the greatest intellectual endeavour of all time had to be put on hold for a few weeks. What’s more, I cannot promise that the same or similar isn’t going to happen again in the near future. This time, however, it most certainly will be related to the current plague. Since we appear to be rapidly approaching the End of Days, there are one or two things I should like to get done before starting my new career as a cannibal/toilet paper scavenger/Thunderdome participant. 
In the meantime, however, I present for your entertainment and edification, the third instalment of my highfalutin cosmological speculations. The first, as you may be aware, is my essay, ‘A Convergence of Cosmologies: Personal Analogies in Modern Physics and Modern Metaphysics’ which can be found in Looking at the Sun: New Writings in Modern Personalism, eds. Anna Castriota and Simon Smith (Delaware/Malaga: Vernon Press, 2017). The second, as yet unreconstructed, instalment was presented on this blog some weeks ago under the title ‘Mirror of the Cosmos: Farrerian Reflections on Mind and Nature’. And now here we have, as I say, the third and for the time being last part.
One final thought, before we get down to philosophical business; and apologies if this is a bit off-topic, but if anyone reading this is the kind of steaming tosspot who unnecessarily hoards toilet paper or any other essentials during a time of crisis, while elderly and vulnerable people are left to struggle, kindly piss off and read something else. Your presence is not required here.
It is my sincerest hope that all such people catch cholera or something similar and so decrease the world’s overabundant and entirely surplus population of arseholes. In doing so, you would make the rest of us ever so grateful.

And so, with that out of the way, we present: 

A Grand Metaphysical Experiment
The Convergence of Cosmologies: Reprisal and Finale

1.      What’s it all about, Alfie?
This is about the fundamental fact that we are mythopoeic creatures, mythmakers, driven, apparently, to tell the universe that it is other than it really is. Truth, freedom, humanity and divinity, even the universe itself: these are myths we construct, diagrams we draw, stories we tell. And before anyone thinks about dropping a dismissive “just” or “merely” in front of those myths and stories, thereby disinterring the rotting corpse of rationalist dichotomous thinking, no thank you. We are driven to construct such myths, for only by doing so, and by living our belief in them, can they become true.
We construct narratives about ourselves and our universe so that, as Susan Langer puts it, we can orient ourselves within the universe. Myths which, in effect, embody a principle of predication whereby our thought about the whole wide sweep of creation finds a foothold, enabling us to understand our universe and ourselves.  More than that, they enable us to become ourselves, to become the kind of creature we are. Stories beget stories.
We need myths to be human, to be, as the writer Terry Pratchett so elegantly said, the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
Myth and symbol, as Langer and Ernst Cassirer recognised, are vital to the development of those most essentially human, activities: talking and knowing. They are the key to understanding the exploratory, explanatory, infinitely extendable, “upwardly” oriented modality of consciousness manifest in both science and religion. Myth and symbol are the very essence of human consciousness and all its great cosmological adventures; myth and symbol and our conscious participation in them.

1.1  A Bit of Background
Before I get carried away, I’d just like to signpost where this mythological turn is coming from. This is the last part of a larger project; some of you’ve already endured bits of it at other conferences. The aim of this project has been to pursue a more perfect alignment of science and religion.
Drawing increasingly on a common storehouse of personal analogies, modern physics and modern metaphysics have begun to converge in ways that practitioners in neither camp fully appreciate. This convergence works itself out in the dialectics of consciousness and the cosmos to which it belongs, quite possibly as the vital element.
The likes of Stephen Jay Gould, and Rupert Sheldrake are the main culprits in this cosmological conspiracy; their scientific writings are rich in anthropic images and metaphysically coloured metaphor. Echoes of Austin Farrer’s interactional metaphysics; its founding construct – what it means to be, or rather to become a person – analogically extended.  Echoes, too, of Ludwig Feuerbach’s anthropo-theology, with its transformative projects, idealised self-conceptions, with which consciousness transacts and extends itself, perhaps infinitely. Together, Farrer and Feuerbach open the way for consciousness to reinvest itself in the cosmological and anthropological projects of scientist and philosopher alike.
But there is more to these echoes than a shared imagery.  There is a deeper synthesis at work here.
Consider, for example, Einstein on the strange but persistent belief that ‘our thoughts and feelings are somehow separate from all the rest.’ Urging us to free ourselves from this ‘optical delusion of… consciousness,’ he gave astrophysics an anthropo-theological flourish, calling it ‘the one issue of true religion’. Or how about the Evolutionary Biologist, Julian Huxley who said, ‘[a]s a result of a thousand million years of evolution the universe is becoming conscious of itself.’
With this in mind, I want to take a minute to recap what’s gone before so that this last stage will make sense.

And if you come back in approximately a week, dear reader, you may find me doing precisely that. In the meantime, I hope everyone stays safe and well as we all prepare for a future as cannibals and scavengers of bog roll. Until next week, keep your distance, wash your hands, and try not to act like a c***.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Challenging Anthropocentrism: Ethical Parity in Material Relations

by Denis Larrivee

26-28 of February 2020, Vatican City: the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life sponsored a conference on the social, ethical, and anthropological issues raised by Artificial Intelligence technologies. Contributing was Denis Larrivee with a poster discussing novel ethical models that normatively equate technical systems with the human being.

Introduction – Revising a Human-Centered Ethics through Techne Anthropology

Artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, synthetic biology, and brain organoids are only a few of many technological achievements likely to alter not only the relation between human beings and technology but also how the human being is himself understood or even altered. This reality has prompted frequent reference to the passing of an age of unfettered technological advance to the beginning of an age of ethical alignment, where the metric of progress is no longer technological capability but human fulfilment. “We need to make sure that these technologies are aligned to humans in terms of our moral values and ethical principles [1].” These Aristotelian and other similar concepts attribute to the human being a value centrality premised on his subjectivity, capacity for morality, and autonomy in the pursuit of the good [2,3]. Paralleling technical advance, however indeed an outcome of it  are challenged to this centrality. These have raised questions about the value structures and ethical systems that flow from human privileging and whether these can and should be replaced in keeping with the enhanced technical capabilities and new material understanding. Current proposals often invoke, for example, a horizontal rather than hierarchical notion of value placement, in which ethical parity is equivalently shared rather than imposed. These proposals premise value contingency on an ‘exceptionless’ criterion that is ontologically neutral and that appeals to a universal techne anthropology. Human ‘exceptionlessness’, however, is itself increasingly challenged by neuroscience at organismal levels of control, revealing the influence of a natural order oriented toward autonomy, self-awareness, and ontological identification. This poster explores the consequences of techne anthropology for ethical theory, ethical praxis, and the ethical subject and posits that its derivative ethical systems fail to account for this natural order and the ontological distinctiveness intrinsic to the human being, who is physically instantiated in global neural operation.

Ethics in an Absence of The Natural Order

Ethical and Philosophical Challenges to Anthropocentrism
Tacitly acknowledged in most research initiatives is an ethical imperative that prioritizes the value of the human being. Termed anthropocentrism, its prioritization places human beings at the apex of organismal life and grounds ethical praxis, thereby promoting human flourishing and restricting harmful interventions. Anthropocentrism, however, has been challenged ethically, for its perceived placement of value in human beings alone [4, 5], and philosophically, as an adequate account of reality [6,7]. Table 1 identifies the major current and historically recent challenges to anthropocentrism, their features and ethical consequences, and movements endorsing their objections. 

Imposing an Order of Techne

The Universality of Techne Anthropology
‘…the doctrine that man is a machine was argued most forcefully in 1751 by de La Mettrie….suggesting there may be no clear distinction between living matter and dead matter…Yet, in spite of the victory of the new quantum theory….the doctrine that man is a machine has perhaps more defenders than before among physicists, biologists, and philosophers; especially in the form of the thesis that man is a computer…’ 
Karl Popper, 1978

Invoking Natural Reality in Value Origins

Addressing the Philosophical Challenge through Neuroscience
Classically, value theory posits that values are situated in a metaphysics of being, populated by entities that are the subject of a predication of qualitative properties. The human being is thereby regarded as an ontologically constitutive, value locus. The ability to manipulate matter, however, has disrupted the association between being and ontology, a conceptual process initiated in Bacon’s and, later, Heidegger’s metaphysics of being. This rupture is reflected in the attribution of value to consciousness (by Derek Parfit) and phenomenology of the emotions (by Eric Scheler) in isolation from the individual. However, neuroscience now shows that cognitive operations emerge from an ontologically constituted entity, the individual, who is instantiated through the mediation of globally directed brain states. These observations reveal that neural organization is governed by metaphysical principles of individuation and qualification; that is, according to a classical metaphysics of being. Hence, in a metaphysics of neuroscience, value contingency rests in the individual as a neurally qualified entity and is differentiated by ontological qualification. Human beings, thereby, occupy the apex of a value hierarchy. Value relations, accordingly, are seen to be structured with respect to oneself, e.g. in the presence of self circuits, [9,10] and between distinguishable entities, e.g. Theory of Mind [11,12]. Intentionalized value relations are maximal when both objects are subjectively aware and are entities in their own right; that is, as individuals with subjectivity and ontological parity. Subject object relations, on the other hand, lack value parity because they exhibit a partial or absence of reciprocity. This value hierarchy is reflected in the physical instantiation of normative relations, seen in many neuroscientific findings extending along a descending hierarchy of value from the greatest (subject-subject) to the least (subject-object). Table 2 illustrates how neuroscientific findings conform to these basic metaphysical influences that shape normative relations in the world.

An Ethics of Enlightened Stewardship:
Ontology in the Natural Order

Ethical parity models presuppose the structuring of lateral and mutually influential normative relations between humans and multiple, technically generated ‘entities’ that share subsets of human properties. On the basis of this last, parity models extend Kant’s Categorical Imperative, adopting a Kingdom of Ends formulation that posits that no entity may be instrumentally used as a means by another - e.g., certain forms of ecoethics [4] - that is, all are invested with equivalent value. Yet the reciprocal and mutual imposition of value does not account for how value is contingent, who can invest it, and what can be done with it. By contrast, relating value to being, that is, to observable reality - evidenced in a metaphysical order revealed by neuroscience, for example - evokes a moral response of ethical supervision that is consistent with external reality []. This model prioritizes the normative position of human beings, but in the context of a metaphysically informed stewardship, that endorses an intrinsic hierarchy of naturally invested values. 

Accepting an Order of Nature

The Order of Nature vs the Order of Biology
‘…the expressions ‘the order of nature’ and ‘the biological order’ must not be confused as identical…biological order is part of that universal empiricism that weighs so heavily on the mind of modern man…and is a product of the human intellect which abstracts its elements from a larger reality….’ 
John Paul II, 1981 

[1] Ethically Aligned Design, First Edition: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems. IEEE Standards Association, 2017
[2] Kant I (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. By Ellington JW. Hackett Press.
[3] Wojtyla K (2011) Man in the Field of Responsibility. Trans. Kemp KW. South Bend, IN: St Augustine’s Press.
[4] Latour B (1993) We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[5] Chandler D (2013) The world of attachment: the post-humanist challenge to freedom and necessity Millennium J Inter Studies 41(3):516-534.
[6] Rae G (2014) Heidegger’s influence on posthumanism: the destruction of metaphysics, technology, and the overcoming of anthropocentrism. His Human Sci 27(1):51-69.
[7] Levy N (2011) Neuroethics and the Extended Mind In Sahakian B, Illes J (eds) Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[8] Gillett C (2016) Reductionism and Emergence in Science and Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[9] Damasio A (2012) Self comes to mind: constructing the conscious brain. Pantheon Books, New York
[10] Carroll J (2012) The truth about fiction: biological reality and imaginary lives. Style 46:129-160
[11] Decety J, Cowell JM (2014) Friends or foes: is empathy necessary for moral behavior. Perspectives Psychol 9(5):525-537.
[12] Esfeld M (2004) Quantum entanglement and a metaphysics of relations. Studies Hist Phil Modern Physics 35:601-617.
[13] Rhonheim M (2008) The Perspective of the Acting Person. Washington DC: Catholic University Press.
[14] Habermas J (1984) The Theory of Communicative Action. Boston: Beacon Press
[15] Ranisch R (2012) Impersonalism in bioethics. American J Bioethics. 12(8):40-41.
[16] Pope Francis. Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. Vatican City: Vatican City Press.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

CfP: Inscriptions Vol. 3, No. 2

Open Invitation

Inscriptions, an international journal of contemporary thinking on art, philosophy, and psychoanalysis, invites contributions to our upcoming open issue (vol. 3, no. 2). We are looking for well-crafted and skilfully written scholarly essays and literary fiction (poetry, aphorisms, short stories, fables, literary essays, etc.).
Inscriptions is an interdisciplinary, double-blind peer-reviewed journal that welcomes all approaches that seek to shed light on current and abiding topics in the domains of art, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. The journal is published online and in print and is indexed by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Our authors include Wolfgang Schirmacher, Siobhan Doyle, Christopher Norris, and Jørgen Veisland.
Access to content in this journal remains open on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge. We do not charge authors for submission or publication.
Submission instructions: Academic essays should be 3,000 to 4,500 words, while scholarship in the form of interviews, reviews, opinion pieces, etc., may be shorter. We encourage potential authors to submit proposals (150 words) for review prior to their writing/submitting entire full-length manuscripts; include title, institutional affiliation, and a brief author bio with the text of your proposal.
For this upcoming issue we also seek submissions of literary fiction (poetry, aphorisms, short stories, fables, literary essays, etc.), to be reviewed by our Fiction Editor Sally-Ann Murray.
Submissions for volume 3, number 2 (2020) are due by 15 March 2020. For a full overview of our policies for submission, review, and publication, please see our website:

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Torgeir Fjeld
Editor-in-Chief, Inscriptions

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Mirror of the Cosmos: Farrerian Reflections on Mind and Nature, Again!

by Simon Smith

Part 7: Arriving together! Did the Cosmos Move for You? 
This is a manifold to which consciousness assuredly belongs, quite possibly as the vital ingredient. If that cosmological revolution which transformed inert matter into participative agency is correct, as both physics and metaphysics suggest, then we who explore it must belong to it. We are, as Einstein avowed, ‘part of the whole, called by us “Universe”.’[1] Huxley agreed, as we have seen, insisting that ‘[h]uman intellectual constructions, together with machines and societies, birds and plants, and minerals and suns and nebulae, are all part of the one cosmic process’.[2] Our exploratory activities, then, are an integral element in the nexus of process and pattern wherein the universe we are exploring is manifest. Those activities make what we call “The Universe” a uni-verse, a whole. What else, since the ‘diagrammatic unity’ of the construct is, Farrer reminds us, nowhere but in the diagrammatising mind. That is the lesson of Schrödinger’s famous feline experiment. Our activities contribute to the collapse of an indefinite range of coexisting quantum possibilities into a coherent, mapable, history; or, as Conti trenchantly put it, ‘[a]cts become facts’.[3]
Crucially, it is in these unifying projects, in the coalescing of consciousness, ‘including all [its] spiritual properties and achievements, with the rest of the universe’,[4] that the downgraded analogue of personal agency is thoroughly upgraded. With a full turn of the hermeneutic circle, what began as projection returns as self-reflection, an image of longed-for harmony and wholeness, of completion or perfection, of infinite otherness.
The transformative potential of such evocative constructs, for human development and for the universe of which that development is a part, becomes clear. Such images - mirrors, masks, personae - reveal the uni-verse as it is known and the mind which knows it. ‘Know thyself’; so sayeth the Delphic oracle; don the mask and speak truth. Wise counsel, indeed; but Sagan’s imagery echoes a more “upwardly mobile” spirit, for ‘[w]e are a way for the cosmos to know itself’.[5] Likewise, Huxley made a lunar leap when he said, ‘[a]s a result of a thousand million years of evolution the universe is becoming conscious of itself, able to understand something of its past history and its possible future’.[6]
In such images of cosmic consciousness the analogical upgrade soars far beyond its origin, towards a ‘transcending archetype’. Farrer called it a ‘“crypto-apprehension” of Infinite Act’, where ‘Infinite Act’ is itself a divinely inspired metaphor; providential embrace interpenetrating (pro)creative acts.[7] This hints at our own infinite extensions, psychologically informed metaphysics reminds us, because it is essentially dialectical, participative, interpersonal. It reflects, simultaneously, both what we are and what we might be: consciousness engaged in its own cosmological extensions. “Crypto-apprehensions” and reflections of perfection invite consciousness to re-conceive itself; no chastened distillate of thought nor unmeant mechanism, but as creative participation in its own projects. Only by entering into them may we overcome what Einstein described as ‘a kind of optical delusion of… consciousness’: the persistent belief that ‘our thoughts and feelings [indeed, all our activities] are somehow separate from the rest’; species, “universe”, and all our others. The scientist advised against taking our limitations too much to heart, be they physical, metaphysical, or psychological. To free ourselves from them and the delusions they provoke, that, he said, giving astrophysics an anthropo-theological flourish, is ‘the one issue of true religion’.
Feuerbach’s point precisely. If the cosmos is, as Huxley maintains, full partner in consciousness[8] then the theistical mind shall countenance no constraint on personal participations. For a ‘limited consciousness,’ Feuerbach declared, ‘is no consciousness’; no consciousness, at any rate, of the cosmos or its interpersonal affirmations and affiliations. ‘Consciousness, in the strict or proper sense, is identical with the consciousness of the infinite’.[9] The infinite nature of consciousness lies in the conscious appropriation of and by the dialectic. Therein lies our own reflection; the image of consciousness cognising and re-cognising, thereby realising, itself as an expression of infinite creativity. That means ‘nothing else than the consciousness of the infinity of the consciousness; or, in the consciousness of the infinite, the conscious subject has for his object the infinity of his own nature’.
Whether Farrer would approve of such Germanic circumlocutions we may never know. Undoubtedly, however, he would applaud the psychological and theological, sentiments. He called it ‘cosmic personalism’.[10] In so doing, he sought, as William James would say, to do the universe the deepest service he could; like Einstein, Sagan, Huxley, Feuerbach, et al., he would say “thou” to it; more, he would, as Whitman did, say:
I, turning, call to thee, O Soul, thou actual Me.

Modelling our explorations of the universe on such dialectical extensions – as Farrer adjured – overcomes the deadlock between personalism and “impersonalism”. The physical and psychological outreach of “personhood”, creative participation in the becoming of others, where conscious acts are embodied in and as a universe becoming conscious of itself: there is the vital clue to the re-integration of mind-and-world.
That re-integration opens the door to a convergence of speculative cosmology with personalist and pragmatic theist; a convergence far deeper than scholars in their respective camps may realise; deeper, certainly, than the “closed category”, subject/object, thinking which still dominates philosophy, theology, and science could ever allow. That convergence is, of course, our real beginning; for conscious exploration and extension; for discovering the unity of our own deeper natures ‘with others and with the rest of the universe.[11] And in such discoveries, does consciousness or personhood become the root of unlimited freedom, the jumping-off place for infinity; or so Huxley thought. It becomes, as we do think and Farrer might have said, the embarkation point for the very grandest of metaphysical experiments.

Phew! Well, I’m sure we’re all glad that’s finally over. And that really is the end – the sexy end! Oh yeah, and so on and so forth. 

[1] My emphasis. Possibly a letter of 1950, as quoted in The New York Times (29 March 1972) and The New York Post (28 November 1972). However, The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice (Princeton University Press, 2005: ISBN 0691120749), p. 206, has a different and presumably more accurate version of this letter, which she dates to February 12, 1950 and describes as “a letter to a distraught father who had lost his young son and had asked Einstein for some comforting words”.
[2] Huxley, 120.
[3] Conti, Metaphysical Personalism 184.
[4] Huxley, 120.
[5] Sagan, ‘The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean’ 6 min, 40 sec.
[6] Huxley, ‘Transhumanism’, in New Bottles for New Wine, London: Chatto & Windus, 1957, pp.
[7] Conti, ‘Austin Farrer & the Analogy of Other Minds’ 53-4.
[8] Huxley, 122.
[9] Feurbach 2-3.
[10] Farrer, Saving Belief, 63.
[11] Huxley, 267.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Mirror of the Cosmos: Farrerian Reflections on Mind and Nature, Again!

by Simon Smith

Part 6: Don’t Stop Now! We’re Almost There!
The universe may, indeed, not be a thing; it is, perhaps, in Farrer’s somewhat ‘antiquated slang’, ‘one damned thing after another’.[1] Nevertheless, this ‘cosmic hurly-burly’ cannot be quite what it seems. If it were, Einstein’s diagrams would be nothing but psychological projections with little empirical flavour. But the enormous success of the sciences belies this; their theories and predictions have proved accurate and reliable, more than ‘servicable,’ as Farrer put it, ‘for finding our way among those live points of process in which alone the world is actual’.[2] In devising such seemingly faithful maps of the cosmos, scientists have clearly demonstrated that it is, in some crucial sense, rational, coherent, unified; sufficiently so, at least, to ensure the laws of physics admit of universal application.
Two such incompatible pictures of the universe cannot be permitted to stand. Fortunately, our mistake is obvious; it is a realist one. All our fine talk of analogies and maps notwithstanding, we have forgotten Farrer’s first metaphysical commandment: ‘the real order of things is diagrammatisable not diagrammatic’.[3] Such is the moral of Heisenberg’s uncertainty; at least, we think it is.
We have, it seems, returned to the metaphysics of the nursery wherein our child’s imagination owlishly regards the cosmos as ontologically independent. A shameful regression; for it was just such juvenilia that action-concepts and analogies were meant to overcome. We cannot now sensibly claim to know anything about the cosmos apart from our interactions with it. This is the foundation-stone of speculative cosmology and philosophical psychology. ‘No physical science,’ insists the empirically inclined metaphysician, ‘without physical interference’; ‘no personal knowledge,’ adds the metaphysically mindful psychologist, ‘without personal intercourse’; indeed, they chorus, ‘no thought about any reality about which we can do nothing but think.’[4] Thus, Farrer’s ‘highest possible generalisation of the empirical principle’ coincides with his - and our - basic metaphysical principle, esse est operari. Intelligible thought about what things are requires some interactive potential because what things are is given in and as what they do.
Elsewhere, he put the point like this: ‘[i]t is not plausible that we should be able to talk about types of things, about which we can do nothing but talk’.[5] We take from this a double reminder. Besides the interactive requirements of “real being” and intelligible talk, language, lest we forget, is a most powerful mode of human activity. Words may heal and harm with divine or devastating effect; they may even create consciousness along with all its gods.
Here, then, is the end of our story; but it is also, in one important sense, just the beginning. The unity wrought by science from the constant collision of forces, which is, in truth, our universe, cannot belong to the universe per se any more than it belongs to consciousness in se. Scientific laws, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder, Huxley reminds us: ‘their generation requires the participation of human minds and their interactions with objects.’[6] “Coherence” and “unity” are, likewise, modes of participation shaping the transactions wherein the universe and consciousness are actualised. The processes and activities which constitute consciousness and the cosmos are, therefore, not only physical, they are also descriptive, projective; in short, personal. Transacted as they are between consciousness and its “objects”, those conceptualising participations are co-constitutive, better still, inter-constitutive, of the agencies there enacted. In the prescient words of Carl Sagan, ‘[t]he cosmos is… within us; we are made of star-stuff.’

Damn, that’s nasty! Oh yeah! Transactions and star stuff! Mmm. Things. Uh huh! Really struggling to keep up the illusion that this is in some way sexy when it clearly isn’t. It’s not even a little bit mucky. Oooh. Nevertheless, don’t forget to come back next time for the finale of our philosophical dirty business…
Let’s Arrive Together!
Mirror of the Cosmos: Farrerian Reflections on Mind and Nature

[1] Farrer, ‘Transcendence and “Radical Theology”’ in Reflective Faith, ed. Charles Conti (London: SPCK, 1972), 174.
[2] Farrer, Faith and Speculation, 169.
[3] Farrer, Faith and Speculation 150.
[4] Farrer, Faith and Speculation, 22; my emphasis.
[5] Farrer, Finite and Infinite, 74.
[6] Huxley, J. New Bottles for New Wine (London: Readers Union Ltd., 1959), 122.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Mirror of the Cosmos: Farrerian Reflections on Mind and Nature, Again!

by Simon Smith

Part 5: In which Philosophical Psychology puts on a mask (kinky!) and dresses up as Cosmological Intuition (ooh, nasty!)
It is, perhaps, well-known that the derivation of the word “person” lies in the Latin persona, meaning “an actor’s mask”; a vital metaphor this: agent and alter-ego in one. The metaphysical hint is unmistakable. Oscar Wilde once quipped, give someone a mask and they reveal their true selves; and in revealing, we add, so they become. As consciousness is bodied forth by an other, so it is embodied in the “self”. Theirs is the mask we wear, the persona we appropriate and transform into a “self”, a conscious, personal reality, commissioned by the other. Thus does ‘[m]ind… everywhere flow into mind’[1] I learn to play my part in the dialectical exchange of perspectives on my self-enactment. Our first performance, then, is no monologue but a dialogue with the other. In such transactions are we made to be self-making.
The essence of consciousness, of “personhood”, is fragmentary; consolidated by exchanged perspectives. This is a commonplace of post-modern theories of identity as well as Farrer’s metaphysical personalism. The “unity” we call a “self” is actually a function of that primary dialectic of perspectives, the love-relationships into which we are born. In this way, those who had and held me have inexorably bound themselves, their image, into my every experience of consciousness. We are who we are by their grace and gift; wherein, St. Paul reminds us, works the grace of God.[2] Others give us the tools with which to make or ‘mend’ ourselves (as Eugene O’Neill suggests) using that same grace as ‘glue’.[3] They give us the language, the symbols, in which we think our thoughts and live our lives.
Such transactions are not only of philosophical psychology, however. ‘Otherness’ is a feature of cosmological schematics and social semantics. The cosmos is not made of ontologically independent units. It is primitively social or interpersonal; not just there, but given to us. And being given, it wears the mask of living process (as Whitehead and, more recently, Brian Cox analogically averred); so becomes a manifold energised by the quickening of a consciousness which constructs itself by passing itself through images of otherness.
Behind all this lurks an old Freudian tale. From deep within the fissures of fragmented psyche, comes the siren-call of cosmological metaphor; the self sings softly to itself of limitation and aspiration, of the wholeness which forever haunts its partial state. So consciousness goes in search of firmer ground, where such transcendent consummations may be found.
Ancient cosmologists wore their contingency on their sleeve so yearned to embrace The Necessary. Such speculations seemed both psychologically and metaphysically unavoidable, even undeniable; for only they could offer our ‘flickering, unstable, semi-transparent moment-to-moment “being”’ (as Sartre dubbed it) the chance to claim “real being”. So the guttering candlelight of consciousness craved the ‘solid, opaque, inert “in-themselves-ness” of things which simply are what they are’.
That too is an old story and the ending is well-known. Desperate to participate in the self-sustaining ontologicality of “real being”, those anciene métaphysique conceived consciousness as a desire for the impossible. To live such a project, cast oneself in ‘a condition of perfect stability and completion’, is what existentialists call ‘bad faith’: mauvaise foi. So the flame went out and consciousness discovered it was nothing but a shadow all along; ‘emptiness poised between two totalities’.
So much for ancient cosmologists. Modern ones have, of course, escaped the metaphysical mire in which philosophy and theology have long sought to drown one another. Striving after, not Necessary Being, but universal law, they preferred to go with their GUTs, Grand Unified Theories, that is. Such constructs are themselves reflections of a fragmentary consciousness, expressions of the self-same “aspiration-to-wholeness”; expressions which, it turns out, may also be doomed to failure.
Einstein, it seems, was right again: ‘[t]he most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible’.[4] For the unity needed to make the cosmic manifold a manifold, and the laws according to which it operates universal, is notably absent. The sciences themselves tell us so. We should not mistake the ‘unimaginable free-for-all of numerous bits of organism, system, process’ for coherent unity or ‘world-pattern’.[5] Not a pattern nor an organism; no more, as Farrer held against the Whiteheadians, than ‘a superorganism , nor, indeed, a totality which exists as such at all’.[6] The universe is ‘a million million million bits of system, interacting as they can and largely with irrelevance to one another’.[7] Faced by such mutual indifference, one might better designate those allegedly universal laws as “local customs”.
Such a universe - if it can be so called - is a most inhospitable place; no consciousness could take root there and no knowledge blossom. As go the laws so goes predictability; practically anything might happen. How, then, could we even begin to make sense of the universe when there is, to the best of our knowledge, no sense to be found there?

Sense in a senseless universe? Now that is HOT! Don’t forget to tune in next time for what very well maybe the CLIMAX of our philosophical bump ‘n’ grind. Oh yeah! We can always hope! It has to end sometime! And maybe bad faith will finally get what it deserves in…
Bad Faith, Naughty Faith!
Mirror of the Cosmos: Farrerian Reflections on Mind and Nature

[1] Farrer, ‘You Want to Pray?’ in A Celebration of Faith, , ed. Leslie Houlden (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1970), 143.
[2] King James Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:10: ‘But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.’
[3] Eugene O’Neill, The Great God Brown and Lazarus Laughed (London: Jonathan Cape, 1960), 101: ‘Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue!’.
[4] Rees, M. From Here to Infinity: Scientific Horizons (London: Profile Books, 2011), 80.
[5] Farrer, ‘Transcendence and “Radical Theology”’ in Reflective Faith, ed. Charles Conti (London: SPCK, 1972), 173.
[6] Farrer, Faith and Speculation, 150.
[7] Farrer, ‘The Prior Actuality of God’ in Reflective Faith, ed. Charles Conti (London: SPCK, 1972), 187-8.