What World Are We Talking About?

Jeff Carreira Blog Posts 15 Comments

I have taken in a great deal of information over the past month or so and seemed time to step back and take yet another stab at my own current best-guess assimilation of this investigation. After contemplating Charles Sanders Peirce, a little Martin Heidegger and some John Dewey to boot, it seems that it is indeed best to identify three dimensions of reality. I will call them, “the material world,” “the living world,” and “the meaningful world.” These are far from original distinctions, but it is good to take a look at them anyway.

The material world includes non-living matter. The living world is the world of living things. The meaningful world is the world of meaningful ideas and emotions. The material world is the most fundamental. When elements of matter become arranged in certain complex ways something interesting happens to it. The non-living matter takes on a whole new spectrum of characteristics. These new characteristics are so fundamentally different that we make a huge distinction between matter that exhibit those characteristics and that which does not. The matter that exhibits these new characteristics we call living and the rest becomes by default non-living. (Not dead, because dead implies that something was living and then ceased to be alive.)

To me what is powerful is to see that “life” is a set of characteristics that are exhibited by some arrangements of matter. We could list some of the characteristics of living vs. non-living things but I think that we get the difference. Thinking of this in terms of emergence, these characteristics emerge out of the matter and become characteristic of the matter at the same time.

Now from the living world emerges the meaningful world. Again this new world emerges as a new set of characteristics that some arrangements of living matter begin to exhibit. The use of language might be one of these, the use of tools, storytelling, taking on names – we could probably go through and begin to identify these characteristics until we felt satisfied that we had them. Again the most interesting thing is to think about how these new characteristics arise right out of some arrangements of living matter. We could say that what has emerged is “mind” – not brain, lots of living things have brains that coordinate body functioning and movement. Let’s say that mind is whatever allows us to be aware of meaningfulness, not just events, or objects, but meaningful events or meaningful objects.

From reading John Dewey I picked up an interesting use of the word “as.” Dewey seemed to be implying that whenever you perceive of something “as” something, you perceive meaning. This can get tricky to talk about because for us meaning and perception are so totally intertwined that it is difficult to separate them.  If we are just seeing a white sphere with read marks on it, there is no meaning in that. You don’t yet know what I am talking about it. I haven’t conveyed the meaning. If we are seeing a “baseball” we are seeing a meaningful object. It is not just a white sphere with red marks – it is ball of very specific size, used in a specific game, that I have a specific history with (or not). If I say white sphere with red marks – not much hops into “mind.” If I say baseball a hole assortment of conscious and unconscious meanings and relationships spring into “mind.”

I believe that Charles Peirce was talking about this “mind” when he talked about thirdness, Heidegger talked about this “mind’ when he made the distinction of the “world” instead of the “universe” and this is the meaning that Dewey was attributing to mind.

Could it be that the physical science are only designed to deal with the “material world?” A discipline like Behaviorism designed to deal with the “living world?” and that other disciplines are designed for dealing with the “meaningful world?” How much difficulty in communicating comes from the fact that we mix up these different dimensions without taking that into account?

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Carl
10 years ago

Behavior analysis certainly deals with the “meaningful world” insofar as it presents a compelling understanding of language, concepts, meaning, reasoning, and other forms of “verbal behavior” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verbal_Behavior_(book) ) that have led to powerful methods for instruction, therapy, teaching non-verbal autistic people to communicate and express meaning in profound ways.

Brian
Brian
10 years ago

Well Jeff you certainly make interesting points. If we combine the ‘material’ and the ‘living’ into one world and set apart the ‘meaningful’ in another world, then we are right at Descartes’ mind-matter dualism. Are you striking out on a different path from nonduality?

Remember if matter is a prerequisite for life and life is a prerequisite for meaning then it all hangs together. There is no mind without matter.

Carl
10 years ago

As they say on Facebook, Brian, Carl likes that!

Michael Kim
Michael Kim
10 years ago

It’s pretty clear to me that if, as Jeff has stated, mind emerges from living organisms, which emerge from matter; that indicates there is no separation. The question he asks about different disciplines dealing with different aspects doesn’t have to mean that the aspects dealt with are separate, or that one discipline or another cannot provide any insight in all three aspects, rather I believe the distinction is that each discipline primarily deals with and therefore is more competent with one or another aspect.

Michael Kim
Michael Kim
10 years ago

On second thought a discipline cannot explain dimensions or aspects higher than the one it deals with.

There is a hierarchy here: matter->living organisms->mind(meaning). Disciplines designed to deal with a higher aspect are able to provide insight about a lower aspect but not vice versa.

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
10 years ago

If we think of these as three different worlds that exist one after the other, then we end up with all kinds of Cartesian splits. Isn’t it possible that if one world emerges from the previous by means of transcending and include (as Michael implies) then they are not seperate, even though they represent different dimensions of being. I am not going into this discussion specifically trying to defend non-duality, I’m just trying to follow the path that seems to come up in front of me. Let the chips fall where they may. I am sure I will be wrong… Read more »

liesbeth
liesbeth
10 years ago

According to De Quincey the sequence is: Quantum void /light> elementary forces > atoms > matter > life > minds (ego’s) > spirit. He describes (Deep spirit, page143) the start of evolution, the ‘zero point energy’ as a ‘vast, infinite sea of quantum potential -emptiness brimming with creativity. He describes a quantum as ‘a package of energy, a bundle of pure energy’ –it is the smallest possible unit of physical existence. One can think of it as the source of everything- an inexhaustible well of potential energy giving birth at every moment to all that is. It has no mass,… Read more »

Brian
Brian
10 years ago

Yes Jeff, but you seem quite taken with the distinction between mind and matter. You keep bringing it up. Dwelling on it. Celebrating it. You keep saying that science can only go so far –in order to carve out a domain for your spirituality. I think your entire enterprise depends on a cartesian divide in order to fend off encroachment into your beloved realm from those persistant, annoying science-types.

Can I get a witness?

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
10 years ago

Guilty as charged. I am very taken by the distinction between mind and matter. I suppose this whole blog is an attempt to work out – with you all – the questions that have arisen in me because of spiritual revelations of non-duality which have been the most emotionally convincing experiences of what is ultimately real that I have had, and the scientific conception of reality that is and has always been most of my experience of what is real. I think that there is a conception of emergent reality that allows for obvious distinctions between realms of being to… Read more »

Jay Marrs
10 years ago

Jeff, I am with you in that “non-dual” perspectives have fueled my deeper inquiry into the matter/mind conundrum. Could these simply be experiences of unexplored brain physiology?

At present, liesbeth’s thoughts seem most probable to me. It may have been that matter came before mind, however, it has integrated into such a singular creative process that to distinguish one as separate from the other is a fruitless affair – fraught with circularity.

Mind is the master that molds and makes. That I know to be true.

Jeff Grace
10 years ago

Jeff, I like what liesbeth says… it reminds me of Peirce’s dictum that “Matter is [weakened] mind.”

(I changed his term “effete” to “weakened” to avoid the baggage such a term carries for us today)

It seem plausible to me to say that, given the right conditions, matter begins to function as mind. Whether or not matter would exist without mind is an interesting question to ponder…

Carl
10 years ago

My experience is that it is all behavior (or activity, or process, or things arising — to use less “charged” words), either internal (my thoughts and feelings), or external (so-called “my” behavior and the perceptual behavior “awareness” of others. What else is there, all arising in one field? That’s the non-duality part for me.

David Noel Lynch
10 years ago

Emerging from the world is flat, we live in the days of evolution which render us into a posture of pure binary linear thinking. This mindset has placed mankind into a vector expressed in the De Quincey sequence leading to the Big Bang.. In a trinary world, each and every moment is comprised of the past that is derived from the future while the future is the inversion of the past. P>M<F Using three state logic, place the material world in the past, the living world at the moment, with the meaningful world in the future. Evolution demands that the… Read more »

Shizuka Mori
Shizuka Mori
10 years ago

I like what David says and what you (Jeff) says “one world emerges from the previous by means of transcending and include then they are not separate” make perfect sense when I view as David describe. Then my question is that “The meaningful world “ –future depend on “Living world “ –present, bluntly to say our survival. Even you say on March-blog post” When we face mounting challenges and global crisis like we are now, we are tempted to see philosophy as a luxury item that we can no longer afford. It’s not! In fact, in the face of overwhelming… Read more »

Brian
Brian
10 years ago

David, Your post interests me but I couldn’t follow it all. Is it real or just fancy? I’d like to learn more so please explain and teach.