Thanks to Bruce Alderman at The Integral Stage for moderating.
I just finished a 2.5 hour debate with David Long (moderated by Bruce Alderman of The Integral Stage). David is a proponent of “Integral 2.0,” an attempted upgrade of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory which David feels amounts to a kind of idealistic creationism when it comes to cosmological questions and the origins of consciousness. David argues for a form of emergentism, the idea that consciousness or sentience emerges out of neutral physics and chemistry at some point in evolutionary history. I argued against emergentism by pointing out that as an account of consciousness it ultimately collapses into either epiphenomenalism or dualism (I unpack why in this article). I argue in favor of a Schellingian/Whiteheadian form of evolutionary panpsychism. The debate should be uploaded in the next few days, and I will share it here. Below are a few reflections offered in an attempt to bridge my position with David’s.
I’m fine with saying that consciousness is an emergent property/product of a complex system. But the system in question is not just the neurons in the skull, it’s the system of the universe.
When we abstract brain physiology from the wider organism-environment field and evolutionary developmental history to which it belongs, when we stick a brain in a laboratory fMRI machine, we may learn some interesting things about how we’re wired up to respond to the world. DARPA/The Pentagon is spending billions on brain science, because it pays off if the goal is the instrumentalization of human souls. It could also pay off therapeutically, if that’s what society valued.
But consciousness is different “in the wild.” Out here in the midst of human history on an imperiled planet earth we conscious beings find ourselves not only embodied but embedded within the body of the world. This world-body’s horizons are analogous to our rentinal blind spot where the optic nerve enters the eye. The light of sight recedes into the darkness of a seer unseen.
As an emergent product of cosmogenesis, consciousness can’t quite get a handle on its comic origin. A finger can’t touch itself. An eye can’t see itself.
We reach for the edge of space-time only to have it recede from us at an ever-accelerating rate. My consciousness is limited in its capacity for ever-vigilant attentiveness to the entire experiential field encompassing me. My focus on this field is always shifting from locus to locus and fades off at fractal edges. Consciousness is an emergent product of the entire history and extent of the cosmos. I mean this quite literally and physically. What else could it be?
Thanks to Layman and Bruce Alderman at The Integral Stage for hosting these dialogues.
Partially edited Transcript (if you feel inspired please do feel free to finish the editing of this transcript and post it as a comment below!):
Matt Segall: Well, good to see you.
Corey Anton: Great to see you
Matt Segall: So how’s it going
Corey Anton: It’s going really great and thank you so much for making this time I’m really happy to talk with you, you really, You know you’re you’ve always been one of my favorite YouTubers going all the way back in some way. You were the inspiration for me, opening the channel. I mean, I really enjoyed your channel. Way back you know over 10 years ago now. Uh, you know what I wanted to do today. And, well, it started with the politics of death video that you had posted a while back. Maybe about a week or so ago. Yeah. And I was going to post a response. And then Spirit Science had posted up a video on near death experiences. You’ve done a couple of video responses to David Long on this issue of emergentism versus panpsychism. I would like to go back to this original issue that you raised in the politics of death and see if we can talk a little bit about some of what’s going on there and then see sort of where it takes us.
Matt Segall: That’s great. Yeah, I’d love to try to tie all those things together, they are intimately connected, and to be able to that draw out
Corey Anton: Yeah, that
Matt Segall: Would be a lot of fun. So
Corey Anton: I am offering this up as I think, you know, in the spirit of, you know, of open inquiry and honesty about what I seem to think what seems to be the case. And what you know. I guess we really don’t know. I mean, there’s all kinds of different ways that we could come at some of these, you know, these different questions and concerns. But it would be, I mean, one way that I would want to come into it is in response to your politics of death, I would say, yes, there is a great concern over the meaning of death as it gets caught within an overly circumscribed individualism as once people have they’ve misunderstood organismal integrity with something like radical independence of the organism like as if the organism is independent of an environment, just because it maintains something like an organismal integrity. And I think for me the question would be, you know, to maximize one’s, we’ll call it spiritual potency or one’s recognition of the sacredness of existence. It has to do with this discovery of who one really is and that one is as a place and moment of everything that’s ever existed. And so as I think as soon as one sheds the false ego, the false sense of self that comes from a visual bias of trusting that the eyes are the true register of what boundaries are. As soon as you start to realize that the word, the spoken word, opens one up to historical dimensions, to dimensions of depth that are unseen. Words are not really material in the same way that we think about something that is visual that can be put on a scale that can be subject to compositional analysis and it’s materiality is basically subject to, again, this kind of reductivism. And let me say one last thing about this and I’ll sort of see what you want to say to any of that. But it’s that I think you know one of the simple ways to come at it, even from like a rudimentary biological orientation is to say to someone, okay, what will you do with the fact of genitalia? Because now you can look at your body and ask how does your genitalia relate to the rest of the body. And how are the hormones related and all of the organs relate to one another, which you’re never going to understand genitalia by just looking at the isolated individual separated at the skin. I mean, that kind of empiricism is going to wholly miss the kind of deep, profound sociality that’s etched in our body, not only with the fact that we have navels but the fact that we’ve come into the world by coming out of another person, like literally come into the world by coming out of another person. And we call these “private parts,” but they are really the ultimately social parts of our being. And it’s sort of, you know, it’s a statement that we call them our private parts, because we were older sociality. Because we try to define ourselves as these kind of atomistic individuals located, you know, again, inside the boundaries of the skin or something like that.
Matt Segall: Yeah, that’s a wonderful sort of preamble to enter into this conversation and I really appreciate everything that you’re saying, and would want to echo it, you know, there’s deep agreement here. And so I think what you’re describing how I would maybe rephrase it would be to say that in the modern period where individualism became basically the religion for modern societies, liberal society I guess, since communism was an alternative which had more of a sense of collective identity. But even there, there was a sense of the individual life as ceasing at death and that whatever we are is somehow limited to the individual body. I think in the whole history of human culture, the changing relationship to death and understanding of what happens when you die is one of, it seems to be at the core, you know, as Ernest Becker and other anthropologists have said our relationship to death seems to be at the base of our cultural, of our culture’s and our of our own sense of what is meaningful. Ultimately, and so how we respond to the fact of death is what gives us our sense of meaning and purpose and death is the end of human life in many senses of “end,” as in, it is only through death and engaging with the mystery of death that we can find purpose, and in the modern individualist context, it becomes difficult to find meaning in the face of death that isn’t just based in greed. And so what what you’re pointing to is the deeper social ground that, for example, if we even just look at our bodies, our sex organs. So they’re not our private parts. I love that they’re actually the most transpersonal of our organs. And actually there’s an interesting symmetry here that I think, you know, it may make modern Protestant but also all patriarchal culture blush and feel shame, but there’s a profound symmetry in the body developmentally between the the genitalia and the face, and like the sensory organs of the face and the sexual organs. The way that the bottom half of the body is structured, these are sprung from the same growth forms that shape the human body.
Corey Anton: You’re right. Okay, now that I think that’s exactly right. So let’s chase that down. Okay, that’s a good way to come out and this is where when people try to reduce it all down to the brain, it gets all confusing. And not only is the brain multi-modular, but the body has an array of different sensory-motor capacities and it includes the different senses traditionally defined like sight and hearing and touch but it includes the kind of space and time dynamics of the possibilities of reproduction. Or the fact that we need to sleep, or that we always have to have food chains at a certain distance from ourselves and we metabolize things at a certain rate. I mean, like the boundaries of the skin are illusory, but the eye is so easily fooled. This is how you get people thinking they’re going to galavant around the stars. You know they’re they’re missing all the ways in which you need the atmospheric pressure. The gravitational constants that are here. Relative to this massive, this planet like when you jump up and down, you’re actually affecting the gravity of the earth. We do the equation. I mean, it’s actually in there, you know, We’re more cosmic, then I think we we recognize and there isn’t integrity to the body, but what we need to go to is this kind of world-openness that comes from the different sense modalities. So this would be a different way to sort of echo what you were saying. But I would try to further it out this way so you know, Archimedes’ great discovery of how you can measure the volume of a complex object, like the crown right he sets it in the water and then it displaces a certain amount of water. He says, look, this is the volume that this thing occupies. But if I asked about a living body. See, this is where the panpsychism starts: When I talk about the the crown, I can understand that object that is subject to a kind of reductive compositional analysis and I can say I comprehend the whole of the crown by submerging it and then showing the amount of water displaced and saying, that’s how it’s occupying space. But me, my body, all of us, not only did we grow out of another person through nutritive commerce and metabolism and really very complicated processes, unlike that crown. I say that I occupy space. I don’t occupy space in a way that a thing does like I could take this pen and I can put it in a drawer, but it doesn’t feel the confinement of the space whereas a living organism, through its sensory capacities, its motor capacities… And it’s not just representational. This is absolutely crucial. I think is one of the biggest failures is for people to imagine that everything is just representational, you know, once you move to the difference between seeing, hearing, and touch you realize that okay like my eyes right now are registering and they’re representing the distances I am from the wall, but my legs do a lot more than represent that distance. They’re the source of those distances that I can take myself closer to or further away from that and to that extent, motility, the fact that my body has a directionality that my hands have things within certain reach and there’s a sort of spatial temporal dynamics of that and then hearing has a dynamic that intersects with that and then vision has an intersect and then once you get language that comes back in and then communication technologies start looping back and double backing over…You get this massive intersecting dynamic of modes of space and time, and we ask this question about consciousness and where does it start. How did it begin, that part of us, which is asking that question is a highly mediated social historical accomplishment it already depends upon calendars, all sorts of media technologies…
Matt Segall: So let me, I want to get to the panpsychism issue. Because I certainly don’t think that a crown or any artifact is conscious or has a soul or anything like that. But what you’re saying about space-time and the way that living organisms sort of bring forth their own space-time envelopes and that the organism and the environment are actually part of, they’re one system. Life is the system of relationship between organism and environment. And organisms and one another. But so the sex organs, right!? There’s something about the sex organs that connect us to a transpersonal past and future. And there’s something about the sense organs that connect us more to a personal sense of here and now. And then language allows us then to reconnect consciously to the way that our sex organs connect us to a deeper past and a future. Language, then, I think in a way is, again, if these, if you think of the top and the bottom half of the body as just grown from the same root and in a way fractally repeating one another, language takes on a profound fucundity as the Logos. Logos has this erotic and sexual dimension to it that is connecting us through time in a way that I think is closer to the way that our genitalia are connecting us through time than it is to the way that our sense organs are connecting us to the here and now. Language takes us out of the here and now of the sensory present and puts us in touch with, I think, that deeper dimension of reality that are our sex organs connect us to, that our genes connect us to, but unconsciously.
Corey Anton: Speech and sperm. They come from common roots. Oh for sure there’s, you screw with people’s heads when you talk with them, literally, there’s a fecundity that comes from the sowing of seeds, meaning dissemination, you know, these are all skills that are, you know this, there’s some way to talk about communication in these terms.
Matt Segall: Doesn’t it feel like culture in general, but like, especially modern individualist cultures have reacted against this in sort of like shame or the sense of like an unwillingness to to recognize the way in which we are not just ourselves? Yeah, and that we are constantly involved in these acts of generation with one another?
Corey Anton: Yeah, let’s get at it. So, I mean, I think I’m going to go back to the touch stuff and the sight versus hearing, and then language. I do have a new book that’s coming out hopefully in December and I’m trying to bring the cost down right now haggling with the publisher, at any rate, I’m really excited about it, but it’s about how non-being. Let me give some examples: These things that I’m talking about are from the book, you know, like this genitalia stuff, but I mean, one of the ways to get at it is to show that there are differences between actualities and possibilities and the different senses have different domains and ranges of possibilities, and language opens up even, you know, a wider range of kinds of temporal possibilities, rather than just like organisms’ possibilities in space. The way that like, in the ear, as the predator and prey sense allow for hunting down of prey and or eluding a predator. But you know when you try to think about something like touch, you know it sounds crazy to say it, but think about it. Touch has no possibilities. Touch is absolutely actual at all points. It’s that part of you which is wholly fully actual and you’re always standing somewhere, you’re always sitting somewhere, you’re always in contact. Now, you could see like right now I can see this pen in my hand. But see possibilities of where I can move it with my hand, but my hand moves wherever it moves! Somone might to to force this and will say that sight is just nothing more than a field of actualities as much as the field of action is. And I say blah! Those ideas are not good phenomenology, these are people overly obsessed with neuromania. They’ve way reduced the complexity of human experience down to the way it comes out in the brain scan and not really registered the phenomenological differences between those spatial-temporal horizons of sight, those of hearing, and those are touch. So, as I say, you know, I think sight offers this vast expanse of possibilities. It’s why it makes athletic competition so fun to watch. You can see all the possibilities that people are managing, you know, when you throw a dart, you are the dart! In the world of touch, this leaves your hand and it lands wherever does, but you can see all the places where you wanted it to land or where it didn’t land… You know, so I think once once you deal with the issue of possibilities, now you have a non-materialist, non-reductive move. And I think this is one of the real accomplishments of Deacon’s Incomplete Nature is that he does deal with possibilities, being part of what makes things up and that is, you know, a possible state a goal or an intended state, even if it’s never actualized can be part of what made the thing do it, as we say. One last thing on this. I think one of the ways to bring it to a head is the difference, I go out in the sun and I close my eyes. Now the sun overcomes the actual photons are overcoming great lengths to tan my skin and that is they’re touching my skin. The skin tan is one of actuality it’s because I’m they’re exposing my zone, the zone, but soon as I opened my eyes. Now there’s a field of possibilities. I mean, even though they’re both amount to chemicals and different photons, you know, in one sense, interacting with my eyes and once they’ve interacted with my skin, and both can be reduced to chemical analysis. But the phenomenological difference between seeing this, if I open my eyes, my eyes are going to be one of the few senses, they’re going to give me a quick place of where I can locate shade and not die from the sun. So, I mean, my eyes clearly afford a realm of possibilities. And if there’s possibilities that means it’s not a concatenate chain of just everything unfolding. There has to be something like, at the very least, organismal complexity looping in upon itself, the more organisms have, more and more. So this is sort of a Strange Loop stuff of Douglas Hofstadter. As soon as you start to get to touch and then smell and then taste and then hearing and then sight and then forms of language and then communication technologies. It’s this multifolded very, very complex horizonal field of different possibilities. So, I mean, I think that’s where you’d have to get out a lot of the non-reductionism.
META-POLITICS – This is the first episode in a new conversation series between Layman Pascal and Matthew T. Segall. After touching on the deep strangeness of our time, and on the importance of finding a new post/metaphysical nexus for politics, religion, and ecology (a reintegration of the value spheres) Layman and Matt take up an extended reflection on meta-politics and the shape of a post-progressive political movement. They delve into such topics as developmental politics, the integral critique of modernity, the religious dimension of social movements, and a meta-progressive vision for social upgrade.
I’ll be spending more time at the South Yuba River for the remainder of the summer. I’ll be recording more videos thinking with rocks, water, air, and fire. I’ll keep adding them to this playlist below.
“What you thought was dead and inanimate betrays a secret life and silent, inexorable intent. You have got caught up in a hustle and bustle where everything goes its own way with strange gestures, beside you, above you, beneath you, and through you; even the stones speak to you, and magical threads spin from you to things and from things to you. … But if you watch closely, you will see what you have never seen before, namely that things live your life, and that they live off you: the rivers bear your life to the valley, one stone falls upon another with your force, plants and animals also grow through you and they are the cause of your death. A leaf dancing in the wind dances with you; the irrational animal guesses your thought and represents you. The whole earth sucks its life from you and everything reflects you again. Nothing happens in which you are not entangled in a secret manner; for everything has ordered itself around you and plays your innermost. Nothing in you is hidden to things, no matter how remote, how precious, how secret it is. It inheres in things. Your dog robs you of your father, who passed away long ago, and looks at you as he did. The cow in the meadow has intuited your mother, and charms you with total calm and security. The stars whisper your deepest mysteries to you, and the soft valleys of the earth rescue you in a motherly womb. Like a stray child you stand pitifully among the mighty, who hold the threads of your life. You cry for help and attach yourself to the first person that comes your way. Perhaps he can advise you, perhaps he knows the thought that you do not have, and which all things have sucked out of you.”-C. G. Jung, The Red Book (Liber Secundus 27/28).
Thanks to Bruce Alderman and The Integral Stage for putting this together!
In Episode 5, Matthew Segall discusses how entheogens or “ecodelics” have impacted him personally and philosophically, inspiring some of his deepest ontological insights and courses of inquiry — particularly in the areas of panpsychism, deep or integral pluralism, and process thought. He then offers some suggestions on how to work most profitably with psychedelics for personal and spiritual growth.
Thanks to Jeremy, Matt, and Ryan for hosting this dialogue!
I wanted to see if you guys might help me think through Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic phenomenology, because I’m writing about it, preparing a draft of what will become a chapter in an anthology on the philosophy of psychedelics. I’m also writing about Descartes’ famous Meditations on First Philosophy and interpreting his experience as a bad trip, turning instead to the psychedelic phenomenology of Huxley but also, of course, Alfred North Whitehead, and seeing if there are other ways of perceiving space and time, other ways of perceiving selfhood or thinking in its relation to the world, or matter, or nature.
Descartes was in the course of his meditations forced into a corner, which then split him in two, where there was the world of extended things and there was himself: the inner activity of thinking, his own cognition. Descartes could see no way that these two things could be substantially or causally related, but he knew at least that both were real enough.
The thing about this dualism–I mean everybody has a critique of Descartes, right? So it’s not really much help for me to offer yet another critique of Descartes’ dualism. That critique has been done. I really want to try to reconstruct an alternative in Whiteheadian terms, and indeed in Huxley’s terms. The way that Huxley relativizes Euclidean space and linear time in his Doors of Perception (his recounting of his masculine experience), the way that he relativizes space and time is much like Whitehead’s own philosophy of organism, wherein space and time become abstractions from something more concrete. What is more concrete for Whitehead is our actual experience, which he described in terms of concrescence, or the growing together of the of inherited actual occasions that are objectified, that, in an efficient causal way, their intensity is received to provide us with momentum. Mechanical causality is perfectly real even in Whitehead’s organic cosmos, it’s just that it’s only half the picture. Efficient causation is this inheritance from the past, and it’s growing together in to the present through a process of concrescence. And there’s also the ingression of eternal possibilities (the lure of the future is another way to describe this). So to put it in a crude spatial way, on the front we’re receiving this river of lures from the future, and from behind we’re inheriting these pushes from the past, and in between concrescence occurs where concreteness unfolds and endures.
There is a some sort of an alchemical amalgamation, a synthesis or integration of these of these vectors of past and future such that an eternal present is continually born. The process of concrescence for Whitehead is not just eternal life, it’s also perpetual perishing. There is just as much death as there is a life in the eternal present. And for Whitehead to be able to surf this wave of concrescence is, well, it’s just as Socrates originally said: it’s to prepare to die. And it’s as Goethe said, we must die and become to fully participate in cosmic reality. You must die and become.
So death is not something we could avoid as living beings. We are made of death and we live by dying. What I want to try to say in my chapter that begins with Descartes is that, yes, his dualism is problematic, but there’s this other side of Descartes where he’s describing God, the infinite substance, that subtends or transcends (or maybe and transcends) his own finite ego. Descartes is leading us through this experiential gauntlet, he’s taking us on a journey. I’m saying it’s a bad trip, but it’s bad in the sense that we end up being severed from the world, severed from our own bodies, severed from one another by a gap that can only be closed by divine fiat. This is the limited letter of theological credit (as Whitehead puts it in Process & Reality) that Descartes uses to somehow tentatively tie the thinking activity of the soul back to the emotions and feelings of the body and the causal flows of the natural world. It’s a very tenuous connection that Descartes leaves us with. This is the bad trip! But when Descartes talks about God, often his discussion about God or the infinite is dismissed as merely another rehashing of Anselm’s ontological proof for God’s existence, that God is necessary being, etc., and that this is an idea that is greater than any idea which can be thought.
But this is not exactly what Descartes is saying. I think what he’s saying is, look, we each know that our knowledge of anything sensory, anything that exists in space or in time as we experience them phenomenologically, that we we lack certainty about it. We know that we make mistakes and errors when we try to interpret our sensory, bodily experience and our emotional experience. But when Descartes retreats a little bit from this outer world and into the realm of inner abstraction, he says we’re a little bit more certain at least about our ideas, since we can participate in them intellectually. Mathematics, for example, geometry and arithmetic: these are sciences of the mind where certainty is possible, where we can intellectually intuit truth in a more direct way. And Descartes wonders whether even here his Christian God, his Biblical Being, has such great power that He could even deceive us in our own thinking, that if God wanted to He could make two plus two equal five. That God’s power is greater than even the power of ideas.
So the question becomes: is God so powerful that God creates ideas, or is God sort of sharing power with ideas, co-eternal with ideas? The latter would be more Whitehead’s view, and I think probably also Huxley’s. They are both more Platonist in the sense that the Good is good intrinsically, not because God wills it or because God loves it. The Good is not good because God wills it; God wills it because it is good. It is then interesting to consider the theodicies that one could construct, where we’re able to deal with evil as something that isn’t eliminable, as if we could finally fight it off or defeat it, which some Biblical versions of the story seem to suggest. There are of course plenty of Christians who have alternative views: think of Origen who said that even Satan will one day be redeemed, that there are no people whose souls are eternally stuck burning in hell.
In Origen’s Christian cosmos, and in Whitehead’s, there are ways of dealing with evil that allow us to interact with it as the Trickster. And here’s the thing about psychedelic trips: often we can get pulled into the shadow, into the dark places of our psyche, into the demonic, during our psychedelic journeys because we imagine that the the dark might win. We lose contact with a deeper divine personality: it’s not Satan or Christ, it’s not Satan versus Christ. Rather, really Satan and Christ are two faces of the same Hidden God which is a God that’s more like a trickster than a pure light or a pure dark, a pure good or a pure evil kind of being. A trickster is more like a divine dramatist: S/He’s the comic-tragic poet who is able to move between light and dark to dance in the color. This would be the type of God the perception of which presupposes what Huxley referred to as mystical experience.
So the thing that I think makes psychedelic experience philosophically productive is precisely the way that it these these consciousness-altering chemicals reliably produce such experiences. There are a variety of them, and the set and setting within which one uses them are certainly co-constitutive of the experience. So when I refer to them as “chemicals” I don’t mean to simply locate their generative power in a molecule. The thing about the molecule is that it’s in vibratory resonance with the rest of the cosmos. So we’re talking about a field effect here, which is why anyone who’s ever walked into a room full of people on MDMA knows the sound or the vibratory frequency of the the voices of the group. In conversation with each other, even if you have not ingested the chemical, you can still feel it, you begin to get a contact high. So there is clearly a field effect going on here. So the reason these chemicals, these molecular frequencies, are philosophically productive, the reason that psychedelics have a place in philosophy, is that they reliably generate mystical experiences. This has been empirically proven by several psychopharmacology labs, at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere, that these chemicals reliably produce mystical experience.
As William James and many others, including Huxley and Whitehead, have all said, mystical experiences are revelatory of reality. They are ontologically significant, not hallucinatory. It would appear, instead, that the rational Cartesian sense, the modern rational adult sense, of being fully autonomous and separate, absolutely free from the causal flows of extended nature, is the hallucination. As if there is truly a dualism between who and what we are as individual selves and what the world is, what matter is, what the universe is, who other people are… to think that there was actually an ontological rift, a bifurcation of the very fabric of becoming: that is the hallucination. This notion of a mind separate from nature that could come to have mastery over nature, or of a God separate from the the cosmos that could have created the cosmos out of nothing. These are the imaginary fantasies of a bad trip. There are other stories we can tell, other worlds we can build.
I think that’s some of what I want to try to weave together in this chapter. I’m curious what you guys think of all that.