Consciousness is a Form of Life, #1 — Solving The Mind-Body Problem.
By Robert Hanna
TABLE OF CONTENTS
II. Conscious-Mind-is-a-Form-of-Life 1: Solving The Mind-Body Problem
III. Dynamic Systems Theory and The Dynamic World Picture
IV. Conscious-Mind-is-a-Form-of-Life 2: Solving The Free Will Problem
V. Dynamic Emergence, Life, and Consciousness
This installment contains sections I and II.
But you can also download or read a .pdf of the complete version of this essay HERE.
Consciousness is a Form of Life
The useful function of philosophy is to promote the most general systematization of civilized thought. There is a constant reaction between specialism and common sense. It is the part of the special sciences to modify common sense. Philosophy is the welding of imagination and common sense into a restraint on specialists, and also into an enlargement of their imaginations. By providing the generic notions philosophy should make it easier to to conceive the infinite variety of specific instances which rest unrealized in the womb of nature.[i]
In my opinion, in order to understand the nature of conscious mind in general and rational human conscious mind in particular, we need radically to re-think what Alfred North Whitehead so aptly called our concept of nature itself,[ii] radically re-conceiving nature as inherently processual and purposive, running from The Big Bang Singularity forward to organismic life, and then on to conscious mind in general and to rational human conscious mind in particular, which in turn entails including radically re-conceiving the mind-body relation, free agency, and emergence. In a nutshell, my thesis is that there’s a single, unbroken metaphysical continuity between The Big Bang Singularity, organismic life, and conscious mind.[iii] For convenience and simplicity’s sake, I’ll call this the conscious-mind-is-a-form-of-life thesis, aka the CMFL thesis.
II. Conscious-Mind-is-a-Form-of-Life 1: Solving The Mind-Body Problem
The metaphysics of the mind-body relation that directly answers to the CMFL thesis is that the mental-physical relation is a two-way necessary complementarity, that is, a mental-to-physical and physical-to-mental necessary equivalence that captures the manifest essence of minded animals like us. In short, as Michelle Maiese and I put it more than a decade ago,[iv] minded animals like us are essentially embodied minds: hence we call this “the essential embodiment theory,” or EET.
In a nutshell, EET says that the conscious minds of animals are necessarily and completely embodied in those animals, and, more specifically, that the conscious mind of an animal is the global dynamic immanent structure of the living organismic body of that very animal, a structure that inherently activates and guides the animal’s causally efficacious biological powers — or as Aristotle puts it in his own terminology: “the soul (anima) is the first actuality of a natural body that has life potentially.”[v] Hence EET is committed to a dynamicist, organicist, and processualist version of neo-Aristotelian hylomorphism about the mind-body relation.[vi]
Consciousness, in turn, is subjective experience, which is to say that it inherently involves a self that’s egocentrically-centered in orientable space and unidirectional time (= subjectivity), and also that this self enacts or engages in mental acts, states, or processes of various kinds (= experience), and furthermore consciousness has two basic modes: (i) pre-reflective or non-self-conscious consciousness, which, in being naturally directed towards cognitive or intentional targets other than itself, is immanently reflexive, or aware of itself egocentrically and internally, without implicitly or explicitly forming judgments or propositional thoughts about itself, and (ii) reflective consciousness, or self-consciousness, which, in being naturally directed towards, or about, itself AS a cognitive or intentional target, is transcendently reflexive, or aware of itself allocentrically and externally, by implicitly or explicitly forming judgments or propositional thoughts about itself. More simply put, pre-reflective or non-self-consciousness consciousness is just being a conscious mind that’s directed towards other animals or things; whereas reflective or self-conscious consciousness is thinking about itself AS a conscious mind that’s ALSO directed towards other animals or things.
EET is a specially restricted version of “dual-aspectism.” For other dual aspect theories, one can compare and contrast Spinoza’s theological monism (in The Ethics), Russell’s neutral monism (in The Analysis of Mind and The Analysis of Matter), or Whitehead’s universal panexperientialist organicism (in Process and Reality). Unlike Whitehead’s universal panexperientialist organicism, however, EET does not say that everything, everywhere in the world is somehow minded, as an intrinsic nonrelational property of that thing, from the fundamental level up. For that would mean, for example, that even Dale’s Pale Ale and the cans that contain it are somehow minded, as an intrinsic nonrelational properties of those things, which is clearly an excessively strong metaphysical thesis. Nevertheless EET does, in a specially restricted way, share some of the metaphysical benefits of panpsychism — namely, that in all and only suitably complex kinds of organismic living creatures and their life-processes, causally efficacious mental and physical properties are related by two-way necessary complementarity. Or in other words: all and only everything in the world that is the right kind of organismic living creature and its life-process, is minded. So EET is a specially restricted version of psycho-organicism.
More specifically, however, EET says (i) that minds like ours are necessarily and completely embodied, (ii) that minds like ours are complex global dynamic structures of our living organismic bodies, i.e., forms of life, (iii) that minds like ours are therefore inherently alive, (iv) that minds like ours are therefore inherently causally efficacious, just like all forms of organismic life, and (v) that minds like ours emerge over time and in space in all and only certain kinds of living organisms, i.e., minded animals.
Furthermore, if by autonomy we mean a capacity for self-determination in the broadest possible sense, then we can also distinguish between (v1) the autonomy of proto-consciousness, a minimal and relatively self-less endogenous sensibility possessed by all living organisms, all the way down to unicellular organisms, (v2) the autonomy of pre-reflective consciousness, an egocentric and immanently self-aware, self-locating sensibility possessed by all minded animals, and (v3) the autonomy of self-consciousness, a further and specifically rational conscious capacity to represent oneself by means of concepts and judgments, which requires and indeed presupposes that we’re also able to think propositionally, speak richly-structured natural languages, and engage in logical reasoning.[vii]
Now in addition to self-consciousness, obviously rational human minded animals like us are also inherently capable of (i) consciousness, that is, subjective experience (as defined above), but also (ii) intentionality, that is, directedness to all kinds of things as their cognitive, desiderative, emotional, etc., targets. These capacities for consciousness and intentionality are also shared with minded animals in many other species, but self-evidently manifest themselves in minds like ours, via our further capacity for specifically rational consciousness, intentionality, and self-consciousness, not only as per Descartes’s Cogito, “I think, therefore I am,” but also, and even more fundamentally, via our capacity for essentially embodied affective and emotional consciousness, intentionality, and self-consciousness, as per what Maiese and I call the Essentially Embodied Cogito, “I desire, therefore I am.”[viii]
In any case, the two fundamental problems in classical philosophy of mind are these:
The mind-body problem: what accounts for the existence and specific character of conscious, intentional minds like ours in a physical world?
The problem of mental causation: what accounts for the causal efficacy and causal relevance of conscious, intentional minds like ours in a physical world?
Correspondingly, here are eight reasons why EET, when foregrounded against the backdrop of the CMFL thesis of a single, unbroken metaphysical continuity running from The Big Bang Singularity to organismic life, to conscious, intentional minded animals, to self-conscious rational human minded animals like us, not only dissolves the classical mind-body problem and the problem of mental causation, but also finally solves them, in the sense that the EET + CMFL combination presents a new and arguably true view of the mind-body relation against the backdrop of a radically revised conception of nature.
First, EET fully avoids reducing the mental to the physical, aka reductive physicalism. Reductive physicalism, presenting itself via the sheep’s clothing of the mind-body identity theory or the logical supervenience of the mental on the physical, de facto simply eliminates the mental. But what could be more epistemically primitive than our subjective experience of ourselves as conscious, intentional minds, and correspondingly, what then could be more metaphysically and ontologically primitive than the fact of the mental quâ mental?
Second, EET fully avoids making the mental naturally or nomologically supervenient on the physical, aka non-reductive physicalism. Reductive physicalism entails epiphenomenalism, hence it robs the mental of all its efficacious causal power. It is no solution to say that, from a non-reductive physicalist point of view, the mental can still have “causal relevance”: on the contrary, the mental has got to have efficacious causal powers, not merely an important informational bearing on causal processes.
Third, EET fully avoids reducing the physical to the mental, aka subjective idealism. Subjective idealism makes nature’s existence radically dependent on the existence of individual minds. It is highly implausible to hold that physical nature came into existence only after there were any minded animals. For, since animals are parts of physical nature, it would follow that animals came into existence only after there were minded animals. And it is equally highly implausible to hold that if all individual minds were to perish, physical nature would go out of existence too. For in that case, since all animals die, and in most cases after animals die, their corpses continue to exist for a while, it would follow that necessarily, the last minded animal would have no corpse.
Fourth, EET fully avoids making the mental and the physical either essentially or even logically independent of one another, as per either Cartesian “interactionist substance dualism” or Cartesian “property dualism.” Any form of Cartesian dualism makes it impossible to explain how the mental and the physical causally interact without appealing to some sort of metaphysical mystery: for example, Descartes’s God, Leibniz’s divine pre-established harmony, an ectoplasmic medium, etc., etc. And any form of Cartesian dualism also entails the metaphysical impossibility that subjective experiences could exist without embodiment.
Fifth, EET fully avoids over-restricting mentality to the brain, i.e, it fully avoids the error of “the brain-bounded mind.”[ix]
Sixth, EET fully avoids over-extending the mental beyond the living animal body, i.e., it avoids the error of “the extended mind.”[x]
Seventh, EET provides adequate metaphysical foundations for a robust metaphysics of free agency,[xi] as I’ll briefly spell that out in section IV.
Eighth, and perhaps most importantly, building on the sixth and seventh points, EET is an approach to the mind-body problem, including the problem of mental causation, that is perfectly scaled to the nature, scope, and limits of our “human, all too human” existence in a thoroughly nonideal natural and social world. Brain-boundedness falls short of the human condition: it makes us much less than we manifestly are. The extended mind exceeds the human condition: it makes us more than we manifestly are. Only the essential embodiment of the mind adequately captures and reflects the human condition: it tells us exactly what we manifestly are. For I just am my minded animal body and its “human, all too human” life, for better or worse. In short, EET answers perfectly to Socrates’s Delphic-Oracle-inspired thesis that an ultimate aim of philosophy is to “know thyself.”
[i] Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, p. 17.
[ii] Whitehead, The Concept of Nature.
[iii] See also Torday, Miller Jr, and Hanna, “Singularity, Life, and Mind: New Wave Organicism.”
[iv] See Hanna and Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action.
[v] Aristotle, De Anima, II.i.412a22.
[vi] Hanna and Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action, esp. chs. 1–2 and 6–8.
[vii] See Hanna, Rationality and Logic, ch. 4.
[viii] Hanna and Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action, p. 21.
[ix] See Hanna, “Minding the Body.”
[x] See Clark and Chalmers, “The Extended Mind”; and Gallagher, “The Overextended Mind.”
[xi] See also, e.g., Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 2).
Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. “The Extended Mind.” Analysis 58 (1998): 7–19.
Gallagher, S. “The Overextended Mind.” Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici (2011): 55–66.
Hanna, R. Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 2). New York: Nova Science, 2018.
Hanna, R. “Minding the Body.” Philosophical Topics 39 (2011): 15–40.
Hanna, R. Rationality and Logic. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.
Hanna, R. and Maiese, M. Embodied Minds in Action. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009.
Torday, J.S., Miller Jr, W.B., and Hanna, R., “Singularity, Life, and Mind: New Wave Organicism.” In Torday and Miller Jr, The Singularity of Nature. Cambridge: Royal Chemistry Society, 2020. Ch. 20.
Whitehead, A.N. The Concept of Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1971/1920.
Whitehead, A.N. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. Corrected edn., New York: The Free Press, 1978/1929.
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