February 2008
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Enlightened Materialism

I keep finding interesting stuff on this old HD; Here’s a documented e-mail conversation between myself and a high-school friend Jeff Peoples on materialism and the mind. It was dated 2004-04-07 and appears to have been written in response to a missing article titled “Enlightenment” that was itself dated 2004-03-02 [Update 2012-06-14: the missing article was found and contains verbatim my opening message below].

I think I have figured out what enlightenment is. It occurs when a neural network achieves the capacity to look at itself as it looks at any other object. ie. when a person fully understands consciousness itself, the phenomenon of ‘I’. Furthermore, this insight halts the normal categorizations of Aristotle’s knife, so that you are able to see things as One complete form.

Associated with this insight is the ability to treat oneself and others with a deep holistic respect, friendliness, and complete impartiality.

Enlightenment might be more quickly arrived at by attacking the inherent gaps in logic directly with koans.

Very interesting. However, I think attaching consciousness to the brain is a mistake. For one thing, the one thing we are certain about is our conscious awareness, all else is in doubt; including the brain. Solipsism must be taken seriously, and to use that which is in doubt: the body, to explain that which is certain–the mind–sounds to me like backward thinking.

I had the realization that even the body is a creation of the mind. For example: phantom limb; the experience that one is aware of pain in a member of the body that has been recently removed. It is to the senses, that is to the sight, obvious that the limb is not there and if the location of pain were actually in the body, then one would not experience pain there. But because the location of pain is actually “in” the mind, one still experiences pain in the phantom limb. Thus it is feasible to assume that one could place awareness of mind outside of the body, and in fact anywhere, for the awareness of the mind is not limited to the body, as is shown in the phantom limb. Furthermore, if the mind is capable of creating pain where there is in fact no location for the pain to occur, it must also be possible for the mind to eliminate pain where one thinks pain can occur; for the experience of pain is actually sensed by the mind, and not the body, and sensations of the body are at least partially a projection of the mind, as is the case in the phantom limb. It has been demonstrated that people under “hypnosis” can “block” out pain from awareness. I contend that hypnosis is simply a term used to apply to the inherent power of the mind that when fully mastered is its natural and perfected state. When one can produce “self-hypnosis” by choice and will, the term hypnosis is no longer an appropriate term, for it implies that one is under the control of another and ones freedom is partially usurped.

The idea of the koan is very good. I wish I had a koan.

Now that you know what enlightenment is, achieve it. Otherwise it is like describing an orange without ever tasting it.

I hope that you find true happiness.

If you want to talk more about these things, like in person, I would be happy to.

Your appeal to the phantom limb as an attempt to justify the existence of the body as a realized idea of the mind is poorly justified. Although it is true that a person can feel many things from the phantom limb, only one of which is pain, this phenomenon lends more credibility to the concept of a ‘body image’ that the mind creates than it does to a solipsistic reality.

I’m a materialist (physicist by training) so I think that the mind is a phenomenon created by a sufficiently complex processing system. Actually in light of Wolfram’s _A_New_Kind_of_Science_ the system may not need to be that complex to achieve consciousness. But the point is that mind is a side effect of the body. To prove this, I just point out that there is no mind without body, and in fact mind seems to be much more elusive than body, just compare physics to psychology.

If the mind and consciousness are just side-effects of certain matter arrangements comprising the brain. It is part of the functioning of this matter that ‘you’ ‘think’ you exist. ie. the brain has manifested an internal process that you identify as yourself, and some other processes, more correspondant with reality, that constitute your ‘body image.’ In virtue of this conceptualization we can explain phantom limb, and other feelings of Oneness with objects distinct from the body as hallucinations. It should be remembered, however, that I think everything the mind creates is a hallucination.

This interpretation does bring into question, free will. ie “can the mind will itself to do things.” to which I am bound by logical consistency to respond “Yes, it appears that way, but No, it’s all self-delusion.”

Well your understanding of the mind, although it is consistent with materialism, which is based on the axiom, (faith), that the mind exists, does not do any mind any good.

If all conceptions of the the mind are “delusions” as you call them, then nothing is a delusion. Indeed, if all things are delusions the word delusion loses meaning. Delusion and hallucination are two pejorative words that are less science and more fear of the unknown. We are confused by hallucinations and therefore claim they are “unreal” or manifestations of the mind; but of course, ALL THINGS are manifestations of the mind.

For me to know mind I need not think, I need only to be, and I need not have any faith; to believe in the body I must think, and I must also have faith.

You think there is no mind without the body, but how can you prove this? When is the last time you did NOT see an invisible mind? And, can you prove that the body can exist without a mind to perceive it? And most importantly, can you prove that YOUR body exists without your mind to perceive it?

Science cant even prove the existence of mind. The materialist, before even studying the “mind” must assume its existence. If the materialist actually kept to its primary axiom: that only observable phenomenon exist and only observable phenomenon are areas of legitimate study, it would not waste its time trying to prove that an invisible ghost called the “mind” is a side effect of the body.

The materialist can put brains, hearts, and fingers in jars, but it cannot put a mind in a jar. And until it can, he has no business studying it.

And for all the materialists theorizing about the mind, and how much they think they know about it, they don’t even have control over their own mind; the Buddha did, so I have much more reason to believe he knew what he was talking about.

The most important thing about the phantom limb example is that it shows that all experience occurs in the mind and not in the body. That is, what we think is pain in our body is actually pain in our mind. Pain is a subjective experience, not objective; pleasure is a subjective experience, not objective. Although pain and pleasure are often correlated with body, they are not caused by the body.

It is the beginning of all mystical practice to understand that pleasure can be had without the senses, without the 5 delights–sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile sensations—and with this beginning one can work on the joy that can be produced directly by the mind. In this first step people realize that imaginations and intellectualizations can produce pleasures. Some people get stuck on the intellectualizations, and some people on imaginations. Once you then rid yourself of both of these, you can produce joy with just the will.

From this joy of will comes the obvious connection with morality. For if one can will joy, one does not need the pleasures of anything else; so one does not want sex, and thus is not lustful and adulterous, one does not want “things”, and thus is not covetous, one does not want honor or the approval of others, thus is not envious or angry or jealous or lonely etc. And one also recognizes that such negative emotions such as anger, envy, fear–they are all impurities of the will, which is pure joy.

Nevermind the “scientific” reasons for this. It can be had.

I’m quite surprised that you did not bother to point out that although I was arguing that ‘I’ is an illusion and does not exist the entire e-mail was written in first person, quite an irony.

And it’s not that the mind’s conceptions are delusions, but that they are not real in the same manner that physical objects are. I have used the terms delusion and hallucination, to refer to mind-like activities of a biological neural net. The net has convinced itself that it has a self and that that self exists, and somehow came to doubt everything acquired it. The net has acquired language as analytical tool and uses it so well that thought and reason cannot occur without it. Paradoxically, your doubt of things other than yourself, can only be expressed in a language that you had to acquire from others, which is why I doubt my ‘self’, but not the external world. So we have that ALL PERCEPTIONS are manifestations of the mind, not all things.

Unfortunately, the way in which neural nets adapt makes it so that you cannot ignore signals of pressure and temperature relayed to the brain from neurons in the extremities. A neural net with no inputs will never get anywhere, will never learn anything. Your ‘self’ exists, and all the ideas about yourself exist because you have acquired these thoughts from interaction with others. Take for example: a researcher discovered a primitive tribe in a rain forest. This tribe had hitherto no knowledge of the outside world. Fortunately, the researcher learned the language of this tribe, only to find that there was no word ‘I’ ‘mine’ or ‘You'(singular) ‘Yours'(singular) only ‘We’ ‘Ours’ and ‘You'(plural) ‘Yours'(plural). These people had no concept of singular possession, they could not exist, even in concept, by themselves without their family. Apparently the most basic ideas you have about yourself are borrowed from your culture.

I may be misunderstanding, but I don’t think I have ever encountered a mind that was not derived from some physical process. Furthermore, I’m quite sure that rocks and planets exist, and would exist if I were not here to perceive them, because of (1) China exists and I’ve never been there, and (2) China existed before I was born, and will continue to do so after I die. Although I cannot know this from experience, my parents could, and they are people like me.

The primary reason Science cannot prove the existence of mind, is because science needs a much better set of parameters by which to measure mind. Mind doesn’t have a sufficient definition that enables testing. But consciousness seems to exist as a direct subjective experience of every person. If you put a brain in a jar very carefully, it’s processes can be studied. For example: Some scientists took some manta ray brains (they last about 2 weeks disembodied) and connected electrodes into them, wired to wheels of a little cart and a photo-detector. The brains successfully navigated the cart toward a flashlight in a darkened room.

I do agree, most people could use some practice controlling their own minds, esp. the minds’ perception of itself. Such control would be very convenient to have in today’s world. Joy and Happiness have been found to be related to brain chemistry and activity of certain areas.

So it seems with sufficient training, you can get the brain to pleasure itself, and ignore external stimuli (the usual trigger of pleasure/pain). But I will not believe that anything we do has an intrinsic morality, though it does have a survival value, and other subjective, linguistic, cultural rubbish heaped upon it.

If the consistency of the external world is greater than that of your own mind, you must believe in the existence of the former over the latter.

Well I wrote a long response originally but my computer crashed. And I’m not going to write another one. Sorry :(

But here is a summary without argument:

  1. Science is based on the observation of materially objective phenomenon. The mind is not materially objective and thus is not a legitimate area of study. People having consciousness and subjective experience is not grounds enough to study such a thing. The fact that other people have minds is hearsay, and science is not based on hearsay. Millions of people claim to believe in God but science is not studying that. Indeed they cant. Anymore than they can study the mind.
  2. The brain is not the mind anymore than a glove is a hand or a correlation a cause. And thus anything claimed about the brain cannot be claimed about the mind. To understand this do not go to scientific journals, go to philosophy journals. Scientists tend not to know the philosophical foundations they use in their own claims.
  3. Intrinsic morality exists insofar that one must be moral to be happy. This is so because to have happiness one must eliminate the causes of unhappiness, and the causes of unhappiness include such things as envy, greed, lust, anger, sloth, gluttony, and pride, fear, guilt, shame, etc. The presence of such things implies a lack of something, and in joy and happiness there is no lack, there is only abundance. And in abundance comes virtue, which includes: sympathetic joy, generosity, continence, patience, industry, moderation, humility, peace, forgiveness, and mercy.
  4. I don’t adhere to the popular conception of the self; that is of the individual ego or personality. The self is as empty as the world is. And my description of the self’s emptiness and the world’s emptiness is based on language I acquired from the world, but my experience of emptiness is not. For I experience emptiness when I am without thinking and imaginations. It is only after that experience do I apply language.

This was a very truncated summary.

Sorry for taking so long to reply, I usually do very little during weekends.

Science is only capable of experimenting on the well defined. We are much closer to defining consciousness than we are God. To this end, we have much more information about the brain than we do about any so called ‘Creator.’ Our language has many terms for our varied subjective experience, so I find it very conclusive that subjective experience exists as an illusion perpetuated by ourselves’. Furthermore, the existence of minds other than my own is verifiable by direct observation, the people I see, look like me, communicate like me, etc. etc. That should be proof enough for a materialist. Consciousness has many levels and forms, which can be objectively studied through psychological exams and brain scans.

Since you insist on drawing such a fine line between mind and brain, and since you have defined mind as not having any material manifestation, it must necessarily be beyond the reach of Science, which is limited to the objective/rational world. I have been thinking this entire time that mind = consciousness, which, to my understanding, cannot occur without a brain of some sort, otherwise there will be no objective place for information storage and processing that the consciousness needs to operate on. Also many Philosophical arguments get rather semantic in nature, something that Science has avoided with precise, formal, mathematical definitions.

Since happiness is really just a class of brain chemistry, you need not be moral to achieve it. It could be acquired through drugs, sadism, or whatever, induces the chemical state of happiness. Though this seems a very superficial outlook, what you have invented is a hierarchy of things which you have not clearly defined.

Logically, the elimination of a negative does not imply the succession of the positive. ie. the difference between nonnegative and positive is the element 0. You just might end up completely devoid of any emotion.

My point with the language argument was that, it inherently changes the manner in which you evaluate your personal experiences. That is, any description is colored with categorization inherent in the system in which you are trying to express the event. Thus, inasmuch as enlightenment is a truly subjective experience that must be treated holistically, any description of it in any language will necessarily fall short. But more than this failing, the system you operate under will also affect how you approach, and what you concentration on of any repetition of the experience.

You in fact do not have any evidence to believe other people have separate minds anymore than you have evidence to believe that dream characters have separate minds. Behavior is not evidence of separate minds.

The very curious thing about dream characters is that they seem to be independent beings, but in fact they are a creation of your mind, as is the “Self” that exists in the dream that seems to be who you are. But in fact, in the “reality” of the dream, you are both the characters and the “Self”; for your mind creates them both. And you discover this when waking up. A dream is just–at the best–your mind playing games with itself and the worst, your mind in complete confusion: a nightmare.

In a dream, any physical thing is simply a manifestation of mind; even that which appears completely solid. If you were to study a brain in a dream it would behave the same as it would if you studied a dream in “reality.”

Happiness is not just a “class of brain chemistry.” It refers to a subjective state not an objective state. The subjective state may correlate with certain pattern of brain chemistry, but sadly our ability to trace “brain chemistry” is extraordinarily poor. Our understanding of the brain is nil. Every new discovery about how the brain works is replaced by a new discovery that refutes it or contradicts it. There is still crave over “right brain” and “left brain” thinking even though in reality it is not that clear cut; science just likes to simplify their discoveries so that it seems more correct. Any deviation in a rule of subjective experience correlating with certain brain activity (say on a EEG scan) refutes the rule completely. It is therefore just a tendency, a correlation and not a cause; otherwise the subjective experience would correlate ALWAYS with the specific brain patterns/chemistry. Any study you read you are going to see patterns of brain chemistry correlating with subjective experience not absolute correlation with subjective experience. So 80% of the time when someone smiles these parts of the brain lights up (and the parts aren’t always as highly lit as other times) the other 20% of the time when someone smiles an entire other part of the brain lights up. There goes any causal relationship.

And before you say that happiness is “just a chemical state” realize that the brain is a lot more complicated than chemicals. In fact much of brain activity isn’t even chemical it is electrical, and much of brain activity isn’t even electrical, its unknown. It is like saying that the world is “just made up of atoms” as if an “atom” is anything. Science thinks that because they can label things they have it all figured out.

I don’t even want to bother trying to explain why math does not explain reality. I will just say reality cannot be separated into parts. And that is the first thing math does.

The foolishness of reducing mind to brain is like this: say someone is enlightened, in extreme bliss, joy without suffering, love without hate, the messiah, the Buddha: he is brought into a laboratory and his brain is monitored; the scientists watches the activity in his brain: it fluctuates, different parts of the brain are lighting up, blah blah blah; and then after analyzing his brain activity the scientists go up to the Buddha and they say: “we know what enlightenment is” and they show him all their charts and pictures. The Buddha would respond: “no, you know what enlightenment looks like on an EEG chart; and that is not enlightenment”

The foolishness of reducing mind to brain is like this: A person who has never known pain wishes to know pain so he goes to the hospital where pain is plentiful. He gets to the hospital and sees people in the waiting room with broken bones, coughing, moaning, crying. He then goes home satisfied he knows what pain is. When his friend who also does not know pain asks him what he discovered pain is, the person tells his friend: pain is when a bone is broken, a person coughs, a person moans, or when water comes out of someones eyes. Pain is when the body squirms and moves in strange ways. I don’t know why people are so wanting to get rid of it; all of it didn’t bother me.”

Science is no closer to “defining” consciousness than they are at defining God. They are only closer to defining states of the brain that correlate to different experiences in consciousness in people who say they have conscious that science cannot be sure in fact they do have.

If you really wish to be skeptical, try to doubt science. Your faith in it has only brought you misery.

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