Re: A more

joe dees (
Thu, 08 Apr 1999 02:14:44 -0400

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: A more
From: "joe dees" <>
Date: Thu, 08 Apr 1999 02:14:44 -0400

At Wed, 07 Apr 1999 10:50:23 +0100, you wrote:
>Thanks for the response Joe.
>> Hokay, reread it. Happy now? I have taught both comparative religion and philosophy at the
>> college level, and I can assure you that I am neither naive nor under the spell of an illusion nor
>> deluded about these things. Karma can be dogma sometimes.
>You have not yet assured me. I remain unconvinced.
>'Karma can be dogma' is a meaningless slogan, though pleasingly poetic.
>> >'Either there is a self, or there is not' is naive.
>> >
>> >Suzuki, Dogen, and Hui-Neng take the same view as the existentialists ?
>> >I think you are mistaken, both in that, and in your opinion re
>> >"dynamically recursive becoming", whatever that is when it's at home.
>> >
>> You think wrongly. My study "Existential Phenomenology and Zen Buddhism" draws the parallels
>> quite clearly.
>> Where "dynamically recursive becoming" is at home is in a description of self/soma/world/other
>> consciousness which combines the insights of Aron Gurwitsch's, Maurice Merleau-Ponty's, Don
>> Ihde's and Richard M. Zaner's phenomenologies, Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutics, Jean Piaget's
>> genetic epistemology, contemporary cognitive science (Dennett, Fodor, Pinker, Damasio and
>> others), and the disciplines of semiotics and memetics.
>Fascinating stuff. But parallels can be drawn between any two bodies of human literary
>endeavour. I have read pieces by most of the authors that you mention here.
>I maintain that the statement 'either there is a self or not' is indeed naive in this context.
>It does not go anywhere. It's like saying 'either there is a sun that is shining
>or not', a crude, simple either/or statement which cannot begin to approach the infinite
>variety and subtleties of the weather. If you are trying to grasp something as nebulous
>and puzzling as the ground of one's own existence, to begin from a dogmatic stance,eg.
>' either I am or I am not ' is not particularly illuminating is it ?
Your "self is not", containing only half the above alternatives, would have to be by your own reckoning twice as dogmatic, yes (how naive would that make it)? But if self is not, there is no you to even form the question or consider the (according to you rather limited - to a one which is a zero) alternatives. Even self-contradiction requires a self. Re your sun example: if one defines God to be an omniscient and omnipotent consciousness, such a construction is a logical impossibility, for like the irresistable force and the immoveable object, omniscience and omnipotence cannot simultaneously inhere. If the future can be known, it cannot be changed, and vice-versa. However, if one defines God as the phenomenal universe, as pantheists do, no contradiction is entailed. Likewise, if, when we say a self, we mean a static, determinate and enduring essence like a thing, we are most likely misdescribing a self-concept, which is a straw self we may build and with which we may iden!
tify (misdescribing because even our self-concept changes). In actuality, such an absolute, frozen and unchangingly definable entity could not function as a self, for it could not adapt, assimilate, accomodate, learn, forget, etc. It could not even be self-aware, for this requires recursion, which requires dynamism, change and a lack of "self" coincidence. Self posesses no fixed identity as do objects; self becomes. IOW, self-consciousness cannot be totally self-aware - as gods purportedly are, although such gods could never change - nor totally unaware - as are things. The snake must bite its tail, but cannot swallow its own jaws. It is forever incomplete, for completion is a static death to the self; it is like a shark - it must move or drown. There is no static thing that is a self - and yet the self is not nothing.
>My suggestion might be more along the lines ' there is a something, we have no idea
>what it is, so let's simply observe its nature and see what may be learned'.
>As I see it, that platform is roughly compatible with the Buddha's injunction not to
>accept anything that he said, just because it was he who said it, but to test out his
>teachings for oneself, and also compatible with elementary scientific method, and also
>compatible with phenomenology as derived from Husserl et al. Would you agree ?
Exactly what I have been doing for some years now.
>I have followed a slightly different zen school to that which S. Blackmore, but I think
>that her notion of zen as a 'meme-eating meme' is tremendous. By that route we have
>a modern theoretical and practical schema from which to advance. If you allow the
>meme-eating meme to devour your memes, then what remains ? Is there a self or not ?
>>From my perspective, with typical zen obscurity, I must declare that there is a self
>and there is not a self. Both are equally true statements. Both are equally illusions.
Chris, lemme explain it to you like this:
The most important mathematician of the 20th century was Kurt Godel, who proved that any system of sufficient complexity could not be both complete and errorless. The reason for this is the emergence of self-reference. When System A achieves a certain degree of complexity, it is capable of generating a self referential Statement B, which, in effect, asserts that it is not a part of System A. If Statement B is nevertheless included in System A, then it is false, and System A is not errorless; if, OTOH, it is excluded, then it becomes true, and System A remains incomplete. To put it succinctly, Statement B belongs either both inside and outside System A, or neither inside nor outside System A, and the dilemma is unresolveable, paradoxical. The bottom falls out; mathematics is revealed as a Zen koan.
What does this have to do with our selves, Chris? Well, try to map this analogy with me. System A is the world, we are B Statements, and the Godelian complexity level which, when breached, permits recursion and therefore forces incompleteness or error, the prerequisites for learning and growth, is the number of cerebral neurons and the degree and structure of their dendritic/synaptic interconnections which we have evolved to possess.
When this Godelian limit is breached in the brain, the capacity for self-reference emerges in an organism which is already consciously aware; IOW, participating in a dynamic informational interchange of action and perception with its environment. It becomes aware of inhabiting a unique perspective, neither identical with nor isolated from its surroundings. It is not, and simultaneously not-not, the world. Perceived information provides the array from which attention, itself an action, selects and focuses upon an object, thus directing and refining its perception and setting the stage for action upon the object, action which itself will result in perceptual change. See how the feedback loop spirals? When this recursion is applied self referentially (in phenomenology, not to the noema but to the noesis; not to the intended but to the intention), that is, not to the perceived and acted upon but to the perceiving and acting of the organism itself, that is, when the perce!
iver-perception-perceived system itself becomes thematized as an object of conception and cognition, self-awareness results. That this system is incomplete, that is, open, allows for creative action when presented with novel situations rather than having its responses to stimuli circumscribed by instinct alone. jean Piaget would say that the moments when habits fail are those which impel reflection, a recursion provoking the advent of self-awareness, and that self-construction and world-construction are isomorphic and correlative processes, evolving from the central interface between organism and world into progressively more elaborate polar self and world schemas. It also entails that conscious and self-aware beings can be neither self-transparent nor omniscient; nor can they completely forget either their own existence or the world's. They can be neither gods nor things; each must be its own particular subjectivity, absorbing, through experience, its own memories, and us!
ing their constituents as building blocks to create its own imaginings and to choose towards which of these to strive.
But ther is a problem of infinite progression here. Let's call a rock 0 (unaware), and a lower animal 1 (aware)(I know that the values are more likely fractal than integral and vary from species to species, but bear with me). Then we, who are aware of being aware (self-aware), are 2. But if we're self aware, we must be aware of that fact (if 2 then 3), if we're aware of being aware, we must be aware of that (if 3 then 4), and in general, if N then N+1, the absolute evolution of consciousness (in absolutes, from 0 to 1 to oo, infinity). But we know that this ideality does not really inhere; why not? Well, first, we have a finite number of cerebral neurons and dendritic/synaptic interconnections, and a finite anount of genetic inheritance and stimulus with which to stamp patterns on the neural template. More importantly, however, our ever-present awarenesses of our bodies, our streams of consciousness, our surroundings, and our histories as sociocultural and language-!
bearing beings tend to tether the balloon, and the further we abstract from perception/action experience, the more sterile and meaningless our gyres become. In fact, we are capable of a finite but indefinite number of recursions.
>This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
>Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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Joe E. Dees
Poet, Pagan, Philosopher

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This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)