Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology just relaunched. Issue 5 will be out next month, which includes an essay by me called “Minding Time in an Archetypal Cosmos” based on this talk.

 

Becca Tarnas

Archai

We in the Northern Hemisphere find ourselves in the heart of the darkest time of year, the Solstice—from the Latin solstitium, when the Sun stands still. Tonight we enter the longest night, when the stars are visible across the sky for the greatest number of hours each year.

At this time when the stars are longest open to our gaze, we are pleased to announce the return of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology. Founded in 2008, Archai is an academic journal originally edited by Keiron Le Grice, Rod O’Neal, and Bill Streett—all alumni of PCC. Four issues of the journal were published from 2009 to 2012, defining the discipline of archetypal cosmology and the theoretical foundations of the subject. Keiron, Rod, and Bill have decided to step back from their editorial duties to focus on other commitments, and we would like to acknowledge the great service they…

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I meant to post this back in August when Levi Bryant finally started blogging again, but it somehow got stuck in my drafts (a veritable grave yard of unfinished thoughts and undead ideas). The philosophical spirit Bryant expresses in his writing is rather unique in its capacity to inspire me to resist. I am very grateful to him for this. So many of my posts on Footnotes2Plato have been provoked by the ideas he has shared on Larval Subjects. I’ll add another to that long list.

In his post on the trauma of speculative realism (etc.), Bryant draws on a passage from Foucault’s Archaeology of History to link the essential structure of myth to the synthetic activity of the subject, that is, to the “temporalizing activity of the subject capable of forming a totality for itself in how it links historicity and futurity in the formation of a present” (Bryant’s words). [Speaking of the present, those in the Bay Area should join us at CIIS tonight for a lecture on Foucault’s life and works by Jamie Socci.] He argues that all prior forms of consciousness (i.e., ideologies) were possessed by the drive to mythologize, that is, to long for a lost origin. Speculative realism (etc.), finally, has exorcised humanity (or some posthuman object formerly known as a human subject) of this possession, freeing ‘us’ to contemplate the fact that ‘we’ are already dead. The enlightened speculative realist no longer believes in ghost stories, not even the ghost story called human subjectivity.

There is much I agree with Bryant about. I align myself with the same “minor” tradition in the history of philosophy that he hints at. I also seek to undermine “the self-present mastery of the subject” and take every opportunity I can to remind myself and others that “we live in the orbit–-in the astronomical sense of the word–-of things that exceed us.”

For precisely these reasons, I am drawn to the work of Schelling (no doubt a heterodox thinker not easily categorized by Western philosophical norms). His early Naturphilosophie and later positive philosophy of mythology and revelation were a century ahead of their time as a forerunner of depth psychology.

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“The crisis through which the world of the gods unfolds,” writes Schelling, “is not external to the poets. It takes place in the poets themselves, forms their poems” (Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, 18).

Joshua Ramey and Daniel Whistler discuss the implications of Schelling’s philosophy of mythology in their essay “The Physics of Sense: Bruno, Schelling, Deleuze” (2014).

For Schelling, myth is not the way the human subject “reconciles itself with itself” or “achieves self-present mastery,” as Bryant puts it. Myth is precisely the opposite: it is another way of speaking of the subject’s inability to achieve complete self-mastery, of the cision at the generative root of subjectivity. Myth is the human imagination’s way of coming to terms with the soul’s creative becoming (i.e., with its lack of substantial being). Myth is soul-making. Humans do not invent myth; rather, argues Schelling, it is myth that invented (and continues to reinvent) humanity.

For Schelling, rejecting the mythopoiesis at the core of our becoming-soul in favor of some supposedly myth-free enlightened view of a meaningless existence (metaphysically speaking) is the route of infantile escapism. His philosophy of mythology urges us to stay with the eternally unfolding crisis and not to fear the infinite depths of its creative becoming. Myth is not a facade painted atop Nature, but Nature’s way of becoming human (and perhaps humanity’s way of becoming other than human).

John Horgan published an essay in Scientific American a few days ago criticizing Tononi’s integrated information theory of consciousness.

In The Beginning Was Quantum

I don’t understand Integrated Information Theory well enough to defend it, but I applaud the effort to make progress toward a scientifically operationalizable definition of consciousness. But it seems to me that part of the problem with all the confusion around IIT is a lack of philosophical clarity about concepts like “mind” and “matter.” So for better or worse we need more philosophy first before we can study consciousness scientifically. Otherwise we don’t even know what we’re studying. I’d echo another commenter on Horgan’s article who made the very helpful statement: “Alfred North Whitehead.” No one has developed a more sophisticated, coherent, and adequate account of panpsychism than he. If we want to understand the conceptual lay of the land, his books Science and the Modern World, Process and Reality, Adventures of Ideas, and Modes of Thought are a good place to start. Whitehead was led to a variety of panpsychism because of his deep appreciation for the implications of quantum and relativity theory. In other words, he was led to panpsychism because of and not in spite of the best physics of his day.

Whitehead’s scheme is sophisticated enough to be able to make distinctions between classes of things like chairs and paperweights on the one hand and living cells and human beings on the other; which is to say that, for Whitehead, rocks are not conscious entities, they belong to a class of entities called aggregates that are not self-organizing and so do not possess consciousness in and of themselves (though their self-organizing components may). So Mr. Horgan, let’s please stop throw rocks at panpsychism as though that were some kind of adequate refutation.

Horgan’s skepticism about panpsychism is understandable, of course, but referring to it as “metaphysical baggage” itself reflects a metaphysical bias. Behind this statement is the assumption that metaphysics is somehow optional, as if we could frame a scientific theory that didn’t make any metaphysical assumptions. Whitehead’s version of panpsychism has cleared up a ton of otherwise confusing conceptual problems for me (including the hard problem), so I prefer it to idealism, materialism, and dualism. It also allows us to avoid the sort of anthropocentrism that leads Horgan to make comments like this: “If all the humans in the world vanished tomorrow, all the information would vanish, too.” Really? Other lifeforms don’t interpret information?

I tried to lay out the philosophical stakes regarding how to understand consciousness in the presentation below. I think for logical consistency we have to choose either panpsychism or eliminativism. There is no middle ground here. Either consciousness (or proto-consciousness/non-conscious experience) is intrinsic to all self-organizing material systems, or it is a mere linguistic artifact that science needn’t bother itself about. That said, there are clearly important criteria other than just logical consistency: experiential adequacy seems to me to demand that we reject the eliminativist claim that somehow what we know so intimately (our own consciousness, or that of those we are close to*) doesn’t actually exist.

[Update 12/7: Comments to this post are unfolding on reddit; also, John Horgan has posted my reply on his blog at Scientific American]

*A reddit commenter argued that “The only conscious entity we can be absolutely certain of is our own.” I’d dispute this claim on ethical and phenomenological grounds. Descartes was phenomenologically mistaken, a mistake since corrected by thinkers like Fichte, Husserl, Levinas, and Buber.  I am no more certain of my own consciousness than I am of someone else’s. Subjectivity is always already intersubjectivity. Our own self-consciousness depends upon recognition by other self-consciousnesses. There is no theoretical “problem of other minds,” at least not in our concrete bodily experience of life as an organism among other organisms in an evolving ecology (which is not to deny the practical problem of carving out an existence among others). We don’t deduce or infer the existence of our lovers, of our friends, of our siblings and parents. We intuit them directly, at least as directly as we intuit ourselves. As Whitehead puts it in Process and Reality, “A young man does not initiate his experience by dancing with impressions of sensation, and then proceed to conjecture a partner. His experience takes the converse route” (pgs. 315-316). The “problem of other minds” is only a problem for dualism, materialism, and idealism. It is not a problem for Whitehead’s panpsychism.

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California Institute of Integral Studies is launching a new certificate program in Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapies and Research.

Certificate in Psychedelic Therapies and Research – Information and Application.

The Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies and Research Certificate serves a growing need for the training of skilled therapist researchers who will ideally seek advanced training for future FDA approved psychedelic-assisted and entactogen-assisted psychotherapy research. Enrollees will be licensable/licensed professionals in specific mental health and medical professions or eligible ordained/commissioned clergy and chaplains. The roots of this Certificate are in the work of scholars and researchers on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapies, transpersonal psychology, consciousness studies, psychoanalysis, mysticism, and anthropology. While this Certificate will emphasize the therapeutic models of psychedelic research, we will address the philosophy and theory from these other scholarly traditions as well. CIIS has an outstanding reputation of 50 years in graduate education that integrates consciousness studies, spirituality and psychology, including psychedelic studies.

Preview of Spring 2016 Certificate Presenters:
Dr. Susana Bustos (CIIS)
Dr. Nick Cozzi (University of Wisconsin)
Dr. Rick Doblin (Tentative – MAPS Founder)
Dr. George Greer (Heffter Co-founder)
Dr. Stanislav Grof
Dr. Jeffrey Guss (New York University)
Diane Haug (Grof Transpersonal Training)
Bob Jesse (Council on Spiritual Practices)
Dr. Michael Mithoefer (MAPS, 4-day June training retreat)
Annie Mithoefer (MAPS, 4-day June training retreat)
Dr. David Nichols (Heffter Co-founder)
Dr. Janis Phelps (CIIS)
Dr. David Presti (UC Berkeley)
Dr. Bill Richards (Johns Hopkins University)