Synchronicity strikes again, as usual.
A week after posting my essay on the resolution – or rather, prevention – of the so called mind/body problem – also known as the Hard Problem of Consciousness – by the simple expedient of treating the state of the brain at any given moment as the fossil or relic or trace or artifact of the state of its mind a moment before, I came across a quote from CG Jung, which demonstrates – to my great deep satisfaction – that this insight was by no means really and only some jejune puerile feeble attempt peculiar to me, but was rather in the Library of the Forms present already – which is to say, eternally – where I had stumbled upon it by accident, long after another far greater mind had found it.
Excursus: Not that Jung is without error. Don’t get me started. Same for me, though. And you, right? Despite his errors, Jung is far, far, o so far ahead of me in his penetration. So, to find him already long camped upon the summit I had so recently attained: joy!
Perhaps he is more orthodox than I had thought. Perhaps, indeed, he died in the Church. So may we hope.
I had been reading a book by Bernardo Kastrup: Decoding Jung’s Metaphysics: The Archetypal Semantics of an Experiential Universe. On page 78, he writes:
Jung does acknowledge that at least some psychic functions are, in some way, closely related to parts of the nervous system (cf. On the Nature of the Psyche: 108). However, he accounts for this relationship in a surprising way:
… it is always the [psychic] function that creates its own organ [!] and maintains or modifies it. (On the Nature of the Psyche: 102-103, emphasis added)
Remarkably, here we have Jung completely inverting the logic of mainstream materialism: it’s the psychic function that creates, maintains and modifies the organic structure, not the other way around.
Jung took the psychic as basic, and as characterizing the whole of reality; so that everything that is, is at bottom at least a bit psychic, or as we might here be more wont to say, is somehow at least a bit mental: is a subject of phenomenal experience – experience being, perhaps, what it feels like to suffer causes. His rationale: our experience is the only evidence we can possibly have about what it is like to exist.
Whitehead made exactly the same point in support of his proposal of panpsychism. We know very well what it is like for us to exist – indeed, we know it better than we know anything else – and because we can have no idea what it might be like to be something unlike us, we simply cannot have any evidence whatever that any other sort of being is not like us in this basic respect – albeit of course in a way apt to itself in its peculiar circumstances and in its own distinct way of being – also a subject of phenomenal experience. All the evidence we have, and might have, tells us that to be just is to feel.
That reality is not basically and universally somehow psychic is then an utterly unfounded inference. It is at best a heuristic, a handy and useful map or model, that furnishes to us some intellectual economy or leverage as we peruse our experience and try to make sense of it, so that we may get on with the work presently at hand.
Excursus: It is worth letting that sink in for a moment. Materialism is a wild ass guess, not at all supported by any evidence we might ever possibly have. Compared to materialism, fairies at the bottom of the garden are a guarded, careful hypothesis. They are incomparably more likely to be veridical than materialism.
So it is that Jung took the fundamental currency of causal order – not just mental, but physical – to be meaning. He took physical events to be first and foremost meaningful – which is to say, intensional, about something other than merely themselves, thus communicating information – and, only then, and only therefore, actual (thus physical). This, in just the way that the most important, most essential thing about Lear, without which there is no such thing, is, not the paper of the books it is printed upon, not the characters or language in which it is written, indeed not even its performances, but the meanings thereof: its effects in the phenomenal experience of its audiences (and a fortiori upon its players). Without that meaning – without what Shakespeare and all his players down through the centuries intended by the play, and without all the manifold meanings their audiences took from it – there would be, simply, no such thing as Lear. There would be rather of what we have been so long so pleased to call Lear only scurrying particles banging about in the void, communicating nothing, and constituting nothing. No one in that case would ever have had anything to do with Lear. No one would have thought of it.
No one would ever have put together a set for its presentation, or assembled players, or sewn their costumes. There would have been no theatre. No one would have sold or bought tickets to see it. No one would ever have taught Lear. It would not be an element in the economy of this world.
Each meaningless atomic collision of what we have been in our delusions accustomed to call Lear would then be an event, to be sure. But the events would add up to … nothing. There would be no Lear, and no one would ever have gone to see a performance of the play, or played it, or written it.
We cannot but see that Lear has really, actually happened, in all the ways I have just noticed. So, too bad, materialism must be false. And, what is far more: Jung must be right about meaning. Not just Jung, of course, but most of the great thinkers of the West, and indeed of all other cultures.
If you take reality to be basically meaningless, you pretty much stop yourself from mattering. “This statement is nonsense” is not a philosophy that can last. And so, nihilism is not a sturdy basis for a resilient culture. No wonder then that none of the traditional cultures of Earth are nihilist – not even Buddhist culture, which in its highest noblest forms is the purest acosmism ever carried into practice. Not when push comes to shove, and a reason must be found to engage in such things as Buddhism.
How do we wrap our minds around the notion that events must first be meaningful, if there is to be anything of them – including even mass or velocity, charge or charm or spin, or anything that is properly physical – at all?
Here we may perhaps get a clue from a wonderful trenchant line from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by CS Lewis.
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”
Think now of neural events in your brain, that reflect its sensory experiences of a moment earlier. You apprehend those neural firings not as events that are massive, or energetic, or electrical, or chemical, or any of the other characteristics of things we (rightly) abstract from raw experience by means of physics – which are, as it were, and at least in principle (leaving aside for the nonce what such a principle might be, or how it might function) what those neural events are made of – but as what those events mean – and, thus, what (to their successors) they are. You don’t feel neural events, which are as it were nothing more than telegraph lines; you feel the message they convey. This, in just the way as that when you watch television you don’t see pixels (or retinal firings) but what those pixels (and retinal firings) are so arranged by some artifice to intend; this, in just the way that when you listen to Lear you don’t hear phonemes (or deformations of the ear drum) but what as assembled by some agent they intend you to understand. You hear, not the medium, but the message.
Notice that if there is no message, then neither is there any medium, but rather only chaotic hurries of particles that, as meaningless – as, that is to say, inconsequential to each other, unimportant to each other – can have nothing really to do with each other, at all. If there is no signal traversing the telegraph line, the line is not telegraphing anything, and so it is not in fact at that moment a telegraph line. It is, rather, just some stuff hanging about incoherently, for no reason, that might fall apart at any moment, again for no reason.
Such was the pure pitiless vision of Democritus. The eliminative materialists of the present day are but his puny mimics, blathering on as they do for hundreds of pages to say what he said in a few dire horrid turns.
The shocking consequence of all this is simple: the behavior of your physical surroundings is always a message. It is a message to you. It is made of physical fields, but it is what those fields mean.
The world – the world inside your head, and the world without it – is always talking to you.
And that is why there is this odd thing that both Jung and Pauli together noticed: synchronicity. That is why meanings come at us coordinately both from within and from without the central nervous system.
Indeed, it is why meanings come at us coordinately both from within and from without the system of this world.
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.