Multiple Dimensional Reality

Jeff Carreira Blog Posts, Philosophical Inquiry 16 Comments

I want to take up this matter of non-duality and the split of mind and matter. Brian has accused me of being a dualist – a Cartesian (gasp) – and I must defend myself for it has become very unsightly for any would-be intellectual to be a Cartesian. The French philosopher Rene Descartes, the father of philosophy, famously (increasingly infamously) created what is sometimes known as the Cartesian split between mind and matter. His motive was to carve out a space where the human soul could exist. And so with his famous quotation, “I think therefore I am,” he envisioned a non-material thinking being that existed inside of us and where our thoughts and feelings came from.

This split between mind and matter leaves one troublesome question. How does mind influence matter. How does my thinking about lifting my arm cause my arm to rise up? How does an immaterial thought affect a material object? This is a very difficult question to answer. Descartes himself was aware of the problem, in fact he came up with an answer, albeit an improbably one. He thought that something mysterious happened occasionally in the pituitary gland where some thought moved matter just a little bit to get the motion started – or something like that. So you see, answers to the dualist riddle of how mind affects matter have been far from totally satisfying.

Dualism over the past century or so has fallen dramatically out of favor and it has been generally accepted that no such split between mind and matter could really exist. Traditionally there have been two main competing non-dual theories of reality in the West – Materialism on the one hand and Idealism on the other.

Materialism is the belief that matter is what reality is fundamentally made up of and that all mental stuff can and will be explained as secondary effects to the movement of matter. This is the popular non-dual theory of the so-called scientific types who see mind as a creation of electrochemical activity in the brain. According to this view the physical snap crackle and popping of neurons in the brain somehow leads to thought, feeling and meaning. Most of us to some degree or other, consciously or unconsciously, have assimilated this view of consciousness as a product of brain activity and of course there is a great deal of obvious truth in it.

Idealism on the other hand is the belief that mental stuff, thought, is what reality is fundamentally made up of and that our experience of matter is created by the mind. This is the view that is most often found favorable to the so called religious or spiritual types. It sees ultimate reality as being some kind of metaphysical realm from which matter in some form or other is being produced and governed. As Jeff Grace pointed out in his comment our hero Charles Peirce can be seen to be an Idealist in that he believed that “matter is effete [weakened] mind,” although I believe Peirce was going further than Idealism, or at least starting to.

So the Materialist overcomes the Cartesian split by asserting that all is matter and the Idealist by asserting that all is mind. Brian was implying that because I was emphasizing over and over again the difference between mind and matter that I must be a Cartesian. I am actually trying to think through a third possibility. One that does not assert that mind comes from matter, or that matter comes from mind, but also recognizes the obvious differences between them. I agree that the Cartesian split is unsatisfying, but so also do I find Materialism and Idealism unsatisfying. I want to find a non-dual understanding of reality that can also cope with the distinction between mind and matter.

This is what I believe the American Pragmatists were leaning toward and also what Integral Theory as it has been popularized by Ken Wilber is an attempt to do. How do we recognize the distinctions of the world while also seeing how they are integrated into an unbroken whole? I believe to do this we can start by thinking in terms of different dimensions of reality. We have to begin to grasp the holonic, holistic, and dynamic nature of multiple dimensional reality in order to start to put together a picture that even begins to feel satisfyingly able to encompass our experience.

I welcome any thoughts you might have and I look forward to devoting a post or two to developing this notion.

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Andrea
Andrea
11 years ago

Great post Jeff. And great several blogs and discussions leading up to this. I agree that the Cartesian split as well as the strict materialist or idealist views are all equally unsatisfying. Somehow I feel we’ll never get to where we want to go if we are presuming separation of mind, matter and spirit. I think as long as we start from this fundamental premise, we will only always come from a territorial perspective, gaining more “stuff” to support our particular view, materialist or idealist. So in the end, it’s inherently materialistic. And so I like your reaching for that… Read more »

Jonny
11 years ago
Nishad
Nishad
11 years ago

Yes, I think that we have to see mind and matter as two different aspects or domains of the same occasion, which is all there ever is in any given moment, and both of these domains evolve together, and as reflections of each other

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
11 years ago

Johnny, great video!

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

In the great state of Tennessee, where I live, the state constitution does not allow public office to be held by atheists, preachers, and duelists — that would be 3 strikes against Jeff — except in this case a duelist is one who fights in duels!

Tony Scott
11 years ago

“I think I think therefore I think I am”

~ Ambrose Bierce showing more thought than
our reflective French Hero !!!

Carl
11 years ago

One of my favorite statements from the late spiritual teacher, Adi Da, was, “We don’t know what anything is.”

I think we can observe and understand what the things that we percieve DO — how they behave. And we can understand how what one aspect of our experience DOES influences what other parts DO through experimental science. But it seems to me, especially with the benefit of Kant’s thinking summarized in an earlier post on this blog, that we cannot possibly know what things are.

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
11 years ago

Tony – Great Quote! Does it come from one of Bierce’s writings? Carl – I would agree that we don’t know what anything is, but I am equally unsure that we will ever know how one aspect of our experience influences what other parts do. You believe this, but not many people do. Except in your company, I am usually pretty behavioristic in my thinking (I was always the school teacher who used token economies, reward systems and behavior shaping charts.) My limited experience never convinced me that anything like a hard and fast, one-to-one correlations would ever come out… Read more »

Tony Scott
11 years ago

The Bierce quote is from “The Devil’s Dictionary.”

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
11 years ago

Carl – More importantly, even though we don’t know what anything is, we do have to act on a best guess model. We all have ideas about the way things are and without any ideas of the way things are we couldn’t function. Being a Pragmatist at heart, I see the job of philosophy as the never ending effort to uncover, question, and refine the models of reality that we do hold, so that they are increasingly effective at guiding human activity. That being said I do think that there is an underlying model of reality behind behaviorism. It is… Read more »

Shizuka Mori
Shizuka Mori
11 years ago

“dynamic nature of multiple dimensional reality”-“Dynamic” make me think again-time (Past,Present,Future)aspect of reality.

Carl
11 years ago

“We all have ideas about the way things are and without any ideas of the way things are we couldn’t function.” Do you think we need ideas about the way things are in order to function? It actually seems to me that such ideas about things often get in the way of functioning, create a layer of abstraction between us and experience, certainly in my own case. I’m more interested in what things do and why than what they are. I have always been attracted to spiritual philosophies such as Taoism and Zen because the downplay the need to know… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
11 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Carl do you really think that we would be better off without our ideas about the way things are, and if you do, isn’t that an idea about the way things are too? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) I do realize that Skinner had a holistic, integral, process view of reality. That is the part I like. There are things that still make me uneasy and I don’t know why. Is it your feeling that Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism is it and we should go back to it, or forward to the versions of it that are being offered by its proponents… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
11 years ago

Reading Jeff’s next blog, I suddenly thought: Inside can only be called conscious if it is able to ACT. First thing is that it is aware of the point, line, next is that it can interact and third is that it is aware of itself as being mind. This blog is not about behaviorism, but I see now that all can be fit into it. if one would want to.

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

On “emergence”: The book “Conversations on Consciousness: What the best minds think about the brain, free will and what it means to be human” by Susan Blackmore (2006) discusses this question. She talks to 20 different cognitive scientists and gets pretty much 20 different opinions, each of them supported by research and reasoned arguments. Emergence is one of the topics covered. Sample dialog: START Susan: Tell me what you think the problem of consciousness is…why is consciousness such a problem? Richard Gregory: The real problem, though it’s trite really, is the huge gap between what qualia are like and what… Read more »

Maritza
9 years ago

what sort of gear did you use, were you self-sufficient? Do you have a blog or junaorl covering the trip and what gear you used in more detail? I am thinking of doing a tour through Scandinavia next year and am trying to work out what gear I’ll need.