Behe Tangles with Two Philosophers

Over at “ID The Future” there are three discussions I think are worth listening to. Hopefully it should stimulate some civilized discussion among critics and sympathizers of Behe and ID in general.

They can be accessed herehere, and here.

184 thoughts on “Behe Tangles with Two Philosophers

  1. Alan Fox:
    graham2,

    1215 miles, apparently. Someone called Carla Molinari did it in 30 days last year.

    @ Allan.

    Seriously, Sir, this is no mean feat. How are your feet, BTW?

    Feet are OK ta! Carla took a shade over 12 days, not 30. But she’ll have gone the most direct way; I was carrying my house on my back, staying off roads as much as poss and trying to find the most scenic route, linking various long-distance paths. I cheated; I did it in 2 chunks: Land’s End – home (Kendal) in 31 days then home – JoG in 28 a few weeks later.

  2. Kantian Naturalist: Quantum mechanics is completely irrelevant to “the relationship between mind and matter”.

    I am not sure why you say this. I earlier posted a link to a lecture by Roger Penrose and Dr. Stuart Hameroff where they argue that consciousness is a fundamental quantum field. They would argue that quantum mechanics is THE relevant relationship between mind and matter.

  3. Allan Miller,

    I don’t have time today to give your comments the attention they deserve. I’ll get to it when I can.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been taking a closer look at info about midges and other flying insects and it makes very interesting reading. Michael Dickenson has been researching these creatures for decades and does a good job in explaining their complexities. The image below is taken from here> He doesn’t think the number of neurons in an organism is a fair metric of complexity. It should also factor in the behavioural repertoire.

    Congrats on your epic walk. That was some feat.

  4. Allan Miller: I cheated; I did it in 2 chunks: Land’s End – home (Kendal) in 31 days then home – JoG in 28 a few weeks later.

    Hmm. Kendal. I suspect that the interruption there had something to do with restocking with the famous eponymous (and, I can testify, tasty) Mint Cake.

  5. Joe Felsenstein,

    When our kids were small, we used to call it ‘energy’. “Do you want some energy?” as an incentive to climb the hill their dad had insisted upon spending our Sunday on. My son (29) and I still use this as mockery when one of us (it’s always him!) falls behind.

  6. CharlieM,

    He doesn’t think the number of neurons in an organism is a fair metric of complexity. It should also factor in the behavioural repertoire.

    OK, but what I’m challenging you to do is justify the invocation of an ‘Extramidge’ dimension to midginess beyond that contained within the Perceived Midge.

  7. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM: Metaphorical language is entrenched in all our communications these days. We can’t escape it.

    Allan Miller: I’m beginning to think you’re a ‘bot. (Yes, I know that’s a metaphor). You dig that defence out every time I mention it. It’s equivocation. The existence of metaphorical usage in language does not justify referring to everything in terms of everything else. At some point, surely, we have to hit (metaphor alert) bedrock? It can’t be metaphors all the way down? I have to presume you write to get a point across. But it’s not happening. You also retreat too easily behind Zen gobbledegook. Just an observation from a consumer.

    I don’t believe that our modern use of metaphors, how one word can have a variety of meanings, can be applied to word use in ancient times. For example we think of the ancient Greek word pneuma as meaning air or breath or spirit. But for the ancient Greeks air, breath and spirit were one and the same thing. They did not make the distinctions that we do today.

    My comparison of your “Midgematter” and “Midgessence” with thunder and lightning was my attempt to demonstrate our habit of retaining a separation caused by our senses. “Midgematter” and “Midgessence” do not interact with each other because they are just two aspects of a unity.

    CharlieM: Our language is biased toward the physical world of the senses and this limits it.

    Allan Miller: That’s a curious state of affairs, isn’t it, for a product not of the physical but of the ineffable Mind? You’d think if minds were nonphysical they’d have less trouble getting these concepts across!

    Here you seem to be trapped in Cartesian dualism. Thinking such as this is looking for a ghost in the machine. The physical world is our world of appearances, the phenomenal world. It is because we develop in a way that allows us to experience this world directly as being “out there” that our use of words reflects this shared experience. The separation of mind and matter is a product of our subjectivity, but we can overcome this subjective viewpoint.

    Barfield wrote:

    something that we should never forget: namely that, if words are indeed symbols, they are symbols not of things but of meanings – not of something physical but essentially of something mental.

    What we experience of the world “out there” are our collective representations as Barfield puts it. Mind and matter are but two aspects of an actual unity.

  8. CharlieM: “Midgematter” and “Midgessence” do not interact with each other because they are just two aspects of a unity.

    You have weird ideas about what makes things part of a unity. Just saying …

  9. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM: Picture one of the midges swirling round your head. You see its physical body which you take to be particulate in nature. What you don’t see (unless you think like Goethe) is the etheric, life “body” belonging to it which is more field like. It is within the space occupied by the midge and extended beyond it.

    Allan Miller: At some point, however extensive Midgessence may be, it interacts with the physical world in a manner that we think of as causal. When the wind gets above a certain speed, the midges all drop to the ground. Somehow, the Distributed Astral Midge can tell what the wind speed is and stop flapping those things on its back. There is an interaction (intraaction?) with the physical world, however extensive and etheric the True Midge may be. The nature of this interaction appears to be squeezed through midge-sperm and midge-egg, but is not solely contained within those physical containers – why, that would be madness! And yet Everymidge grows into an adult that behaves the same way. There is a consistency of action/interaction.

    The interaction is between the midge and its environment. The midge is complex a psychophysical being. Genetics may allow certain behaviours but its behaviour is not wholly determined by its genes.

    I’ve been doing a bit of research on diptera and they are fascination creatures. The wing beat frequency of midges are about 1000 Hz. Like many other creatures such as birds, bats and fish, they use leading edge vortices to generate lift forces which are greater than those generated by laminar flow alone.

    Three videos by Michael Dickinson here, here, and here supply a lot of detail about diptera in general. Their wings are packed full of sensors and their antennae can sense the wind passing over their heads. And of course they need to have mastery in control of flight. To achieve very precise and instant control they have four groups of muscles attached to each wing which are separate from the powerful flight muscles. Their halteres act as metronomes and gyroscopes which are vital to ensure the control muscles are activated. And all this would be of little benefit without eyesight to match. Although these flies do not have the same level of spatial perception as we do, their temporal perception is far superior to ours.

    Adult midges do not develop piece by piece, they emerge fully formed after a coordinated transformation from the earlier stages. They develop from larvae which are equally fascinating and fully functional although their lifestyles are completely different from the adult to which they give rise.

    CharlieM: It is not constrained by it. The midge also has an “astral body” which is constrained by neither space nor time. This is what governs the behaviour of the midge, its nervous energy, its instincts, behaviour and the like.

    Allan Miller: And its development? Again, something outside the physical substance of the midge, at a given developmental stage, is being postulated – for no good reason I can see. It solves no problem, is required to explain no observation. It’s just a stepping stone to the really important thing: you.

    I use quotes when discussing the etheric and astral “bodies” because to call them bodies is rather misleading although it does convey the idea that there are further super-sensible principles associated with the visible material. By super-sensible I mean not perceived by any of our five senses. In like manner radio waves and other electro-magnetic fields can also be designated as super-sensible.

    There is good reason to postulate a life principle. Instead of speculating how life could have possibly arisen from inanimate matter we can observe the natural world and make comparisons.

    There are obvious differences between a living midge and a dead midge. The living, growing, maintenance of form; that is the life principle. I have used the term “etheric body” for this principle. It would be wrong to speculate further than this concerning it.

    What about the astral principle? Comparing insects to plants there is a close association between the two and insects have life cycles that mirror that of flowering plants. But insects have greater freedom of movement than plants and they act in accordance with their instincts and desires. This can be observed as the astral principle. It is the behaviour that anyone can observe without having to define it more precisely. The astral principle can be thought of as that which distinguishes insects from plants.

    As for myself, I am aware that I have an ego, that I have passions and desires, that there are bodily processes constantly active within me, and that I have physical form. Physical body, etheric “body”, astral “body”, and ego. Those four principles anyone can observe in themselves. Here I am using “observe” in its wider sense.

  10. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: I worded that all wrong! What I meant was that increasing complexity does not break the laws of physics and complexity. Processes such as the butterfly effect can be understood and described in terms of physics.

    Kantian Naturalist: If you accept that complex systems can be described in terms of physics, then I don’t see what reasons you have for insisting that life somehow transcends physics.

    If you were to write a love letter, would describing this letter in terms of the physics of the ink and paper, would that encompass all that it comtained?

    CharlieM: Would you say you regard matter/energy as primal?

    Kantian Naturalist: As Aristotle observes at the beginning of Metaphysics, “what is first” is ambiguous, because there is what is first in relation to us and there is what is first in itself.

    What is first in relation to us, or what we initially describe in setting forth any articulated understanding, is what the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty described as the pre-theoretic correlative unity of embodied perceptual experience and sensible-and-intelligible things. That is: we first encounter ourselves as embodied amidst things that we perceive sensibly as organized unities that are also replete with significance and value for us.

    Steiner would say that what is first in relation to us is the experience of sense perceptions and thinking. Without the process of thinking the sense perceptions are a meaningless disconnected jumble of particulars.

    Kantian Naturalist: By contrast, what is first in relation to itself, or absolutely primary, is what Spinoza would call “God or Nature”: the necessary, infinite, absolutely independent substance that is the Universe.

    But it does change how we should think of the relationship between mind and matter.

    I would not argue with that.

    Kantian Naturalist: Quantum mechanics is completely irrelevant to “the relationship between mind and matter”.

    I don’t know how you can say that. Quantum mechanics has completely changed how we think of matter.

  11. Allan Miller: Feet are OK ta! Carla took a shade over 12 days, not 30. But she’ll have gone the most direct way; I was carrying my house on my back, staying off roads as much as poss and trying to find the most scenic route, linking various long-distance paths. I cheated; I did it in 2 chunks: Land’s End – home (Kendal) in 31 days then home – JoG in 28 a few weeks later.

    Did you go over the Kessock Bridge or did you stay west of Inverness? I wasn’t a sponsored walk was it?

  12. Joe Felsenstein: Hmm.Kendal.I suspect that the interruption there had something to do with restocking with the famous eponymous (and, I can testify, tasty) Mint Cake.

    Far too sweet for my taste, but it is perfectly suited to the job it was meant for. It gives a very quick burst of energy when needed. It can be a life saver.

  13. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM: He doesn’t think the number of neurons in an organism is a fair metric of complexity. It should also factor in the behavioural repertoire.

    Allan Miller: OK, but what I’m challenging you to do is justify the invocation of an ‘Extramidge’ dimension to midginess beyond that contained within the Perceived Midge

    It’s not “Extramidge”. It is inclusive of what a midge is, which is more than that which is sense perceptible to us.

  14. Alan Fox:
    CharlieM: Here you seem to be trapped in Cartesian dualism

    Alan Fox: Oh the irony!

    Polarity and duality are two different concepts.

  15. Corneel: CharlieM: “Midgematter” and “Midgessence” do not interact with each other because they are just two aspects of a unity.

    You have weird ideas about what makes things part of a unity. Just saying

    The weird ideas of today quite often become the consensus of the future. 🙂

    “Midgematter” and “Midgessence” are as far as I know unique terms invented by the creative mind of Allan Miller. Can you or anyone explain in terms of physics and chemistry how they came about?

  16. CharlieM: “Midgematter” and “Midgessence” are as far as I know unique terms invented by the creative mind of Allan Miller.

    As I understood it, “Midgessence” is a playfully mocking term for what you called the etheric, life “body” and “astral body” of a midge.

  17. CharlieM: If you were to write a love letter, would describing this letter in terms of the physics of the ink and paper, would that encompass all that it contained?

    Of course not. But it doesn’t follow that linguistic meaning or socially shaped emotions have some ontological reality or independence from the noises and marks which convey them.

    Steiner would say that what is first in relation to us is the experience of sense perceptions and thinking. Without the process of thinking the sense perceptions are a meaningless disconnected jumble of particulars.

    And I would say that Steiner is completely mistaken about sense perceptions and their relation to thinking. A better view of sense-perception has been available since the 1890s; it’s called Gestalt psychology, and it rejects on experimental and observational grounds the very picture of sense-particulars that Steiner (like other neo-Kantians) takes for granted.

    I don’t know how you can say that. Quantum mechanics has completely changed how we think of matter.

    A change in the conception of “matter” does not tell us that the existence or nature of “matter” is dependent upon the existence or nature of “mind.” Quantum mechanics offers us a map of “matter” that is more useful than that of classical mechanics with regard to certain scales and/or energies.

  18. CharlieM: Did you go over the Kessock Bridge or did you stay west of Inverness? I wasn’t a sponsored walk was it?

    No, no sponsorship, just a stroll for my own entertainment. I went up the west, picking up the Cape Wrath Trail and linking the old routes, avoiding roads as much as possible.

  19. CharlieM: The interaction is between the midge and its environment. The midge is complex a psychophysical being. Genetics may allow certain behaviours but its behaviour is not wholly determined by its genes.

    Never said it was. Misunderstanding the gene centric stance is something I expect you will take to your grave.

  20. CharlieM: It’s not “Extramidge”. It is inclusive of what a midge is, which is more than that which is sense perceptible to us.

    Yeah, sez you. I’m challenging you to justify that stance rather than simply state it.

  21. CharlieM: The weird ideas of today quite often become the consensus of the future. 🙂

    And thus is justified every wrong idea, ever, among the occasional right ones. See also: “science keeps changing its mind”, as if science is perpetually wrong.

    “Midgematter” and “Midgessence” are as far as I know unique terms invented by the creative mind of Allan Miller. Can you or anyone explain in terms of physics and chemistry how they came about?

    Midgematter is the physical stuff of a midge. Simplistically, it hatched from a midge egg, although there is obviously a prior history to that egg. That history need not concern us in terms of localising the midge: It exists, pretty uncontroversially. “Midgessence” is, as Corneel says, my term for the extension you argue is needed – there is more to being a midge, you say, than the physical instantiation. That needs justification.

  22. CharlieM: I don’t believe that our modern use of metaphors, how one word can have a variety of meanings, can be applied to word use in ancient times. For example we think of the ancient Greek word pneuma as meaning air or breath or spirit. But for the ancient Greeks air, breath and spirit were one and the same thing. They did not make the distinctions that we do today.

    Wow, you learn something new every day.

  23. Corneel:
    CharlieM: “Midgematter” and “Midgessence” are as far as I know unique terms invented by the creative mind of Allan Miller.

    Corneel: As I understood it, “Midgessence” is a playfully mocking term for what you called the etheric, life “body” and “astral body” of a midge.

    Yes but it was a consciously creative mocking.

  24. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: If you were to write a love letter, would describing this letter in terms of the physics of the ink and paper, would that encompass all that it contained?

    Kantian Naturalist: Of course not. But it doesn’t follow that linguistic meaning or socially shaped emotions have some ontological reality or independence from the noises and marks which convey them.

    But the fact that you could make hundreds of copies of the letter but they would all carry the same meaning shows that the meaning has a greater reality than its physical manifestation.

    CharlieM: Steiner would say that what is first in relation to us is the experience of sense perceptions and thinking. Without the process of thinking the sense perceptions are a meaningless disconnected jumble of particulars.

    Kantian Naturalist: And I would say that Steiner is completely mistaken about sense perceptions and their relation to thinking.

    He is not talking about sense perceptions in the way that you understand them. He would agree that sense perceptions as you understand them are never single, separate, disconnected entities which we passively receive. What he is doing in engaging in the mental exercise of imagining the individual inputs purified of our engagement. Something that is never actually experienced but can be conceived of mentally.

    Kantian Naturalist: A better view of sense-perception has been available since the 1890s; it’s called Gestalt psychology, and it rejects on experimental and observational grounds the very picture of sense-particulars that Steiner (like other neo-Kantians) takes for granted.

    Have you read Steiner’s Truth and Knowledge which is a preliminary to his main philosophical work? The introduction begins:

    The object of the following discussion is to analyze the act of cognition and reduce it to its fundamental elements, in order to enable us to formulate the problem of knowledge correctly and to indicate a way to its solution. The discussion shows, through critical analysis, that no theory of knowledge based on Kant’s line of thought can lead to a solution of the problems involved

    Steiner’s primary influence was Goethe. Other influences included Schelling, Schiller and even Nietzsche who he admired greatly.

    I don’t suppose you have read The Riddles of Philosophy in which Steiner gives an account of philosophy from ancient Greek times up to his day. It is quite a big book?

    CharlieM: I don’t know how you can say that. Quantum mechanics has completely changed how we think of matter.

    Kantian Naturalist: A change in the conception of “matter” does not tell us that the existence or nature of “matter” is dependent upon the existence or nature of “mind.” Quantum mechanics offers us a map of “matter” that is more useful than that of classical mechanics with regard to certain scales and/or energies.

    Bernardo Kastrup has some thoughts on this with a link to a “Spacetime” video on consciousness and quantum physics here. I don’t really know enough about these relationships to make any serious arguments, but I will take a closer look at the above link and elsewhere to give myself a better idea of the arguments.

  25. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM: Did you go over the Kessock Bridge or did you stay west of Inverness? I wasn’t a sponsored walk was it?

    Allan Miller: No, no sponsorship, just a stroll for my own entertainment. I went up the west, picking up the Cape Wrath Trail and linking the old routes, avoiding roads as much as possible.

    That was some stroll! Did you get spooked by any low flying RAF aircraft in that area? I know they practice low flying manoeuvres along the glens there and the speed they come up on you hugging the terrain is very scary.

  26. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM: The interaction is between the midge and its environment. The midge is complex a psychophysical being. Genetics may allow certain behaviours but its behaviour is not wholly determined by its genes.

    Allan Miller: Never said it was. Misunderstanding the gene centric stance is something I expect you will take to your grave.

    Never said you said it was. 🙂 What also interests me is how lifestyles and behaviour affects gene expression.

  27. CharlieM: Yes but it was a consciously creative mocking.

    Well, I guess that came from the mocking “body” aspect of Allan Miller. In case you are wondering: The mocking principle can be thought of as the behaviour which distinguishes people with and without a sense of derisive humour. Anyone can observe it without having to define it or explain how it works. Obviously it doesn’t interact with anything because it’s just another aspect of a unity.

  28. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM: It’s not “Extramidge”. It is inclusive of what a midge is, which is more than that which is sense perceptible to us.

    Allan Miller: Yeah, sez you. I’m challenging you to justify that stance rather than simply state it.

    When it is understood that there is a greater reality to every living creature as a time being rather that a being in space, then this becomes a justification.

  29. CharlieM,

    According to Steiner,

    It is hoped in this essay to lay a foundation for overcoming the subjectivism inherent in all theories of knowledge based on Kant’s philosophy. Indeed, I believe I have achieved this by showing that the subjective form in which the picture of the world presents itself to us in the act of cognition — prior to any scientific explanation of it — is merely a necessary transitional stage which is overcome in the very process of knowledge. In fact the experience which positivism and neo-Kantianism advance as the one and only certainty is just the most subjective one of all. By showing this, the foundation is also laid for objective idealism, which is a necessary consequence of a properly understood theory of knowledge. This objective idealism differs from Hegel’s metaphysical, absolute idealism, in that it seeks the reason for the division of reality into given existence and concept in the cognizing subject itself; and holds that this division is resolved, not in an objective world-dialectic but in the subjective process of cognition.

    I think that Steiner makes a fatal blunder right at the beginning, where he claims that the task for epistemology is to overcome Kantian subjectivism.

    Putting aside whether Kant’s epistemology is “subjectivist” (I think it is not), Steiner’s error is to think that the task of epistemology is to accept subjectivism as a necessary stage along the way towards an adequate epistemological view. It is not. For one could simply avoid Kant’s entire way of thinking, and regard it not as a necessary phase of a process that leads beyond it, but as fundamentally mistaken.

    But it is probably true that if one were to begin with Kantian subjectivism, then you end up either denying that knowledge is possible and become a complete skeptic like Nietzsche (and then the slippery slope to fascism and to postmodernism) or affirm something like the objective idealism of Hegel.

    So philosophers like myself who want to avoid both Hegel and Nietzsche really do need to determine what goes wrong with Kant himself.

    That aside, I think the far more fundamental disagreement between American pragmatism (which is basically where I’m coming from) and Steiner is that Steiner belongs to that German tradition which regards epistemology as a wholly presuppositionless science — since it relied upon any assumptions or presuppositions, it would not be “critical.”

    The history of German thought after Kant is a parade of professors and scholars all attempting to out-do one another about whom can out-criticize whom. To this parade belong not only Maimon, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel but also lesser lights: Schopenhauer, von Hartmann, Lotze, etc.

    Whereas pragmatists take their orientation from the metaphor of “Neurath’s boat“:

    We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.

    Or as Wilfrid Sellars put it:

    empirical knowledge, like its sophisticated extension, science, is rational, not because it has a foundation but because it is a self-correcting enterprise which can put any claim in jeopardy, though not all at once.

  30. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM: The weird ideas of today quite often become the consensus of the future.

    Allan Miller: And thus is justified every wrong idea, ever, among the occasional right ones. See also: “science keeps changing its mind”, as if science is perpetually wrong.

    The point is not to jump on every idea and claim it to be true or false. It is to hold an idea in your mind and play around with it while trying to withhold judgement. Even ideas that turn out to be false can lead to further understanding.

    CharlieM: “Midgematter” and “Midgessence” are as far as I know unique terms invented by the creative mind of Allan Miller. Can you or anyone explain in terms of physics and chemistry how they came about?

    Alan Miller: Midgematter is the physical stuff of a midge. Simplistically, it hatched from a midge egg, although there is obviously a prior history to that egg. That history need not concern us in terms of localising the midge: It exists, pretty uncontroversially. “Midgessence” is, as Corneel says, my term for the extension you argue is needed – there is more to being a midge, you say, than the physical instantiation. That needs justification.

    The physical stuff of a midge is in a constant state of renewal. “Midgematter” is transient over time. “Midgessence” is the form which is less transient than the matter of which it is composed. “Midgessence” is reliant on physics and chemistry but it is not governed by them.

  31. Corneel:
    CharlieM: Yes but it was a consciously creative mocking.

    Corneel: Well, I guess that came from the mocking “body” aspect of Allan Miller. In case you are wondering: The mocking principle can be thought of as the behaviour which distinguishes people with and without a sense of derisive humour. Anyone can observe it without having to define it or explain how it works. Obviously it doesn’t interact with anything because it’s just another aspect of a unity

    Maybe I was absent the day that my physics teacher explained the laws behind conglomerations of matter engaging in mockery. Is it something to do with that force which is the polar opposite to gravity, namely, levity? 🙂

  32. CharlieM: When it is understood that there is a greater reality to every living creature as a time being rather that a being in space, then this becomes a justification.

    So I have to buy into it first? I don’t think that’s going to happen, do you? I mean, I accept that individuals have a developmental arc (obvs), and existence is serial instances not a snapshot, but I doubt that’s what you fundamentally mean.

    As an aside, I’ve finally got round to reading a book my son got me for Christmas (having carried the one he got me the Christmas before – Adam Rutherford’s Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived – from Land’s End to home without reading so much as a paragraph): Metazoa by Peter Godfrey-Smith. I’d assumed from the title it was a survey of the animal kingdom, and it kind if is, but specifically in regard to its gathering consciousness during evolutionary time, which ties it in to these discussions. He’s not a dualist or a life-forcist, so you won’t find anything sympathetic to your views, but you may find it interesting.

  33. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM,

    According to Steiner,

    Steiner: It is hoped in this essay to lay a foundation for overcoming the subjectivism inherent in all theories of knowledge based on Kant’s philosophy. Indeed, I believe I have achieved this by showing that the subjective form in which the picture of the world presents itself to us in the act of cognition — prior to any scientific explanation of it — is merely a necessary transitional stage which is overcome in the very process of knowledge. In fact the experience which positivism and neo-Kantianism advance as the one and only certainty is just the most subjective one of all. By showing this, the foundation is also laid for objective idealism, which is a necessary consequence of a properly understood theory of knowledge. This objective idealism differs from Hegel’s metaphysical, absolute idealism, in that it seeks the reason for the division of reality into given existence and concept in the cognizing subject itself; and holds that this division is resolved, not in an objective world-dialectic but in the subjective process of cognition.

    Kantian Naturalist: I think that Steiner makes a fatal blunder right at the beginning, where he claims that the task for epistemology is to overcome Kantian subjectivism.

    According to Steiner the task of epistemology is to lay the foundation from which all subsequent methods of attaining knowledge can take their start. He had studied Kant since he was a teenager and came to the conclusion that the unknowable “thing in itself” was a fiction that continues to threaten our ability to understand the world. A detailed account of Steiner’s philosophical works can be found here, particularly chapter 3.

    From this link:

    According to Steiner, the hypothetical starting point for cognition “must not itself be knowledge”. An object of knowledge presumes a subject-knower. As such, a subject, an object, and the relationship between the two, are implicated. Yet all three are concepts generated by thinking and therefore, the primal starting point cannot be a transcendental manifold of representations, as Kant and the neo-Scholastics presume. The first sensory contact must be sought immediately prior to thinking or the “activity of cognition. This is Steiner’s first principle.

    We cannot start from the point of view of the thinking subject, as even this is a concept arrived at by our own activity. It presupposes a representational relationship.

    He argued that the limits set by Kant could be transcended.

  34. Kantian Naturalist:
    Putting aside whether Kant’s epistemology is “subjectivist” (I think it is not), Steiner’s error is to think that the task of epistemology is to accept subjectivism as a necessary stage along the way towards an adequate epistemological view. It is not. For one could simply avoid Kant’s entire way of thinking, and regard it not as a necessary phase of a process that leads beyond it, but as fundamentally mistaken.

    Steiner did think that Kant’s idea of a priori knowledge was entirely mistaken.

    Kantian Naturalist: But it is probably true that if one were to begin with Kantian subjectivism, then you end up either denying that knowledge is possible and become a complete skeptic like Nietzsche (and then the slippery slope to fascism and to postmodernism) or affirm something like the objective idealism of Hegel.

    So philosophers like myself who want to avoid both Hegel and Nietzsche really do need to determine what goes wrong with Kant himself.

    That aside, I think the far more fundamental disagreement between American pragmatism (which is basically where I’m coming from) and Steiner is that Steiner belongs to that German tradition which regards epistemology as a wholly presuppositionless science — since it relied upon any assumptions or presuppositions, it would not be “critical.”

    Steiner did believe that one should begin by seeking out any presuppositions and eliminating them as far as is possible. A major presupposition he wished to eliminate from our starting point is the belief that what we perceive is actually just a representation within us.

    Kantian Naturalist: The history of German thought after Kant is a parade of professors and scholars all attempting to out-do one another about whom can out-criticize whom. To this parade belong not only Maimon, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel but also lesser lights: Schopenhauer, von Hartmann, Lotze, etc.

    Whereas pragmatists take their orientation from the metaphor of “Neurath’s boat“:

    We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.

    Or as Wilfrid Sellars put it:

    empirical knowledge, like its sophisticated extension, science, is rational, not because it has a foundation but because it is a self-correcting enterprise which can put any claim in jeopardy, though not all at once.

    If someone wants to be pragmatic and confine their thinking to the progress made by “Neurath’s boat” then that is fine. But that should not stop others from looking for clues to how the boat came to be on that journey in the first place and then in thinking about how the various crew members contributed to the maintenance by using a piece of wood in their own particular way. Everyone may not be in agreement as to where others have placed their planks, but we do not always see things in context. If the boat is still seaworthy then they must be doing something right as long as they keep working together for the common cause.

    And this cause transcends individual survival. We’re all in the same boat. 🙂

  35. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM: When it is understood that there is a greater reality to every living creature as a time being rather that a being in space, then this becomes a justification.

    Allan Miller: So I have to buy into it first? I don’t think that’s going to happen, do you? I mean, I accept that individuals have a developmental arc (obvs), and existence is serial instances not a snapshot, but I doubt that’s what you fundamentally mean.

    You don’t have to buy into anything. All you need do is contemplate levels of change between form and matter. Think of ‘The Ship of Theseus’ or “Neurath’s boat“ as mentioned by Kantian Naturalist. In both cases the material is in a constant process of change but the vessel’s form is retained in a more consistent manner. It is more important that the crew retain the form rather than the material. You can think of the etheric principle as the form. There is no need to speculate about causes behind this form. In fact this would be antithetical to the Goethean method.

    Allan Miller: As an aside, I’ve finally got round to reading a book my son got me for Christmas (having carried the one he got me the Christmas before – Adam Rutherford’s Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived – from Land’s End to home without reading so much as a paragraph): Metazoa by Peter Godfrey-Smith. I’d assumed from the title it was a survey of the animal kingdom, and it kind if is, but specifically in regard to its gathering consciousness during evolutionary time, which ties it in to these discussions. He’s not a dualist or a life-forcist, so you won’t find anything sympathetic to your views, but you may find it interesting.

    What I like about Godfrey-Smith is that he has direct relationships with the lifeforms he studies. I haven’t read “Metazoa” but I have read shorter pieces by him that are available on line. Like Roger Hanlon who I have mentioed he is very interested in cephalopods.

    He has written an article in Scientific American entitled The Mind of an Octopus where he writes:

    If we can connect with them as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over. They are probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.

    Both vertebrate and invertebrate animals have evolved to a stage where they display intelligent behaviours such as curiosity, learning and play.

    The nautilus can live up to 20 years while its more advanced cousin the octopus only lives an average of a couple of years. So in the case of cephalopods longevity does not correspond to higher intelligence.

  36. CharlieM,

    You don’t have to buy into anything. All you need do is contemplate levels of change between form and matter. Think of ‘The Ship of Theseus’ or “Neurath’s boat“ as mentioned by Kantian Naturalist. In both cases the material is in a constant process of change but the vessel’s form is retained in a more consistent manner. It is more important that the crew retain the form rather than the material.

    Sure. There is a constant flux of molecules. I am last week’s sandwich, among other things. None of this is in dispute.

    You can think of the etheric principle as the form. There is no need to speculate about causes behind this form. In fact this would be antithetical to the Goethean method.

    How very convenient for the Goethian method. Something is organising molecules into recognisable species members, with numerous characteristics in common, as well as keeping individual-form distinctions constant through a succession of Big Macs, dammit! It seems a dodge to simply dismiss this as an irrelevancy.

  37. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM: You can think of the etheric principle as the form. There is no need to speculate about causes behind this form. In fact this would be antithetical to the Goethean method.

    Allan Miller: How very convenient for the Goethian method. Something is organising molecules into recognisable species members, with numerous characteristics in common, as well as keeping individual-form distinctions constant through a succession of Big Macs, dammit! It seems a dodge to simply dismiss this as an irrelevancy.

    It is not the material which determines the form. The material is arranged in conformation to the form building entity which has a field-like quality.

  38. Corneel:
    CharlieM: You can think of the etheric principle as the form. There is no need to speculate about causes behind this form. In fact this would be antithetical to the Goethean method.

    Corneel: But does it have a “peach-blossom color”?

    I would qualify that. According to Steiner the human etheric “body” can be perceived in a way that is comparable to the sensation we get when viewing peach blossom. He tells us that the peach-blossom colour is the “living image of the soul”

    He did give a series of lectures on colour which can be found here.

  39. CharlieM: He did give a series of lectures on colour which can be found here.

    Hmmmm. It’s not very inclusive, is it? In fact, it ‘s bordering on racism in places:

    Let us now take peach-blossom colour. More exactly, let us call it the colour of the human skin; of course, it is not the same for all people, but this colour, speaking generally, is that of the human skin.

    Um no, it is not. The majority of people have a nice dark skin. Perhaps Steiner meant to say coffee. Generally speaking, human skin colour is coffee-coloured:

    If you observe the constitutional humour in a green person and in one who has a really fresh flesh-colour, you will see that the soul experiences itself in the flesh-colour. That which rays outwards in the colour of the skin is none other than the man’s self-experience. We may say that in flesh-colour we have before us the image of the soul, really the image of the soul. If, however, we go far into the world around, we must select the lifeless peach-blossom coffee colour for that which appears as human flesh-colour. We do not really find it in external objects. What appears as human flesh-colour we can only attain by various tricks of painting. It is the image of the soul-nature, but it is not the soul itself; there can be no doubt about that. It is the living image of the soul. The soul experiences itself in flesh-colour. It is not lifeless like the green of the plant, for if a man withdraws his soul more and more he becomes green. He can become a corpse. In flesh-colour we have the living. Thus peach-blossom coffee colour represents the living image of the soul.

    Much better. Will you send the correction to the Rudolf Steiner Archive?

  40. CharlieM: It is not the material which determines the form. The material is arranged in conformation to the form building entity which has a field-like quality.

    Sorry, that’s clear as mud. Fields are physical, with physical effects. You still have the problem of shoving matter around. There is a problem of causation, even if you declare it unimportant.

  41. Corneel:
    CharlieM: He did give a series of lectures on colour which can be found here.

    Corneel: Hmmmm. It’s not very inclusive, is it? In fact, it ‘s bordering on racism in places:

    Steiner: Let us now take peach-blossom colour. More exactly, let us call it the colour of the human skin; of course, it is not the same for all people, but this colour, speaking generally, is that of the human skin.

    Corneel: Um no, it is not. The majority of people have a nice dark skin. Perhaps Steiner meant to say coffee. Generally speaking, human skin colour is coffee-coloured:

    Steiner: If you observe the constitutional humour in a green person and in one who has a really fresh flesh-colour, you will see that the soul experiences itself in the flesh-colour. That which rays outwards in the colour of the skin is none other than the man’s self-experience. We may say that in flesh-colour we have before us the image of the soul, really the image of the soul. If, however, we go far into the world around, we must select the lifeless peach-blossom coffee colour for that which appears as human flesh-colour. We do not really find it in external objects. What appears as human flesh-colour we can only attain by various tricks of painting. It is the image of the soul-nature, but it is not the soul itself; there can be no doubt about that. It is the living image of the soul. The soul experiences itself in flesh-colour. It is not lifeless like the green of the plant, for if a man withdraws his soul more and more he becomes green. He can become a corpse. In flesh-colour we have the living. Thus peach-blossom coffee colour represents the living image of the soul.

    Corneel: Much better. Will you send the correction to the Rudolf Steiner Archive?

    Why don’t you send it yourself?

    Steiner gave these talks to a gathering of workers at the Goetheanum. Marie Steiner began the preface to the publication of these transcripts with these words

    In these pamphlets are appearing the many sayings and utterances upon the nature of art given by Rudolf Steiner to the painters of the Goetheanum in a form never intended for the printed book, but born from what was demanded by the task of the moment. They purport to be the living conversation of the teacher with his pupils where answers were given to questions and desires, and where uncertainties and confusions were cleared away by oft-repeated explanation. The Lectures were stenographed, and we know how often by a slip or slight nuance the vitality and fire of an expression may be missed, but even then in their fresh and limpid nature they are of more value than they would be if forced within a stiff, pedantic style

    Steiner believed that we are entering a time in which the individual comes to the fore and race has less relevance. In the past people had a far greater connection to their tribe or clan than is the case with modern humans. Modern Western culture allows us to be much more free as individuals than was the case in past ages.

    As for Steiner’s perceived racism, I would not condone it but we have to remember those were different times where the majority of people never saw anything wrong with statements which today would be considered highly offensive.

  42. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM: It is not the material which determines the form. The material is arranged in conformation to the form building entity which has a field-like quality.

    Allan Miller: Sorry, that’s clear as mud. Fields are physical, with physical effects. You still have the problem of shoving matter around. There is a problem of causation, even if you declare it unimportant.

    Well electromagnetic fields are physical with physical effects. Then of course there is quantum field theory which is further removed from the classical conception of matter.

    Some people do not like to be called “materialist” these days, they prefer the term “physicalist”. I think that is because it has been realized that the physical extends beyond what is generally regarded as matter. And of course energy is seen as more fundamental than matter

    Why should reality be restricted to an outdated materialism or to a mathematical construct based on measuring the effects of the behaviour of unknown entities?

    Nature gives us a script which we can learn to read. Looking at the fresh, vibrant colours of new growth is a good indication of a strong life force and then seeing decay where the colour drains from that which was once alive demonstrates the ever weakening life force. Study a deciduous tree over the seasons and you will see the ebb and flow of the life force as it sprouts in springtime and has died back come winter.

    An apple falls from a tree and the flesh soon decays. But the seeds within possess a life force which is ready to burst into an active new sapling.

    Through these examples we perceive the life force.

  43. CharlieM: According to Steiner the task of epistemology is to lay the foundation from which all subsequent methods of attaining knowledge can take their start.

    Yeah, lots of people follow Descartes in taking that approach. I think it’s a mistake.

    He had studied Kant since he was a teenager and came to the conclusion that the unknowable “thing in itself” was a fiction that continues to threaten our ability to understand the world.

    Lots of post-Kantian philosophers reject the unknowability of the thing in itself: Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer. That hardly sets him apart from the pack.

    We cannot start from the point of view of the thinking subject, as even this is a concept arrived at by our own activity. It presupposes a representational relationship.

    That seems dubious. What do you mean by “representational relationship”?

    He argued that the limits set by Kant could be transcended.

    Sure, everyone thinks that — except for the most orthodox of neo-Kantians and positivists, I guess.

    The question is, how?

  44. CharlieM: As for Steiner’s perceived racism, I would not condone it but we have to remember those were different times where the majority of people never saw anything wrong with statements which today would be considered highly offensive.

    I’d agree with that, but please mind that I just read the text that you presented. If you believe these transcripts do not properly communicate what you think is worthwhile about Steiner’s teachings, then do not link to them.
    So … can we agree that peach-blossom does not represent “the living image of the soul” and that Steiner was just talking nonsense?

    Can we also agree that you are pretty much doing the same thing here?:

    CharlieM: Looking at the fresh, vibrant colours of new growth is a good indication of a strong life force and then seeing decay where the colour drains from that which was once alive demonstrates the ever weakening life force.

  45. Corneel,

    It’s the rapidity with which apparently inconsistent positions are presented.
    Strangely, I had just been told that green was the “lifeless” color of plants, positively corpse-like compared with the peach-blossom of humans. Now, that same greenery is fresh and vibrant, contrasted with the color-draining of decay.

  46. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: According to Steiner the task of epistemology is to lay the foundation from which all subsequent methods of attaining knowledge can take their start.

    Yeah, lots of people follow Descartes in taking that approach. I think it’s a mistake.

    So would you say that it’s more important to obtain dashboard knowledge as Barfield explains it?

    CharlieM: He had studied Kant since he was a teenager and came to the conclusion that the unknowable “thing in itself” was a fiction that continues to threaten our ability to understand the world.

    Lots of post-Kantian philosophers reject the unknowability of the thing in itself: Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer. That hardly sets him apart from the pack.

    Steiner explains in many places how he differs from these thinkers, starting with Truth and Knowledge

    CharlieM: We cannot start from the point of view of the thinking subject, as even this is a concept arrived at by our own activity. It presupposes a representational relationship.

    Kantian Naturalist: That seems dubious. What do you mean by “representational relationship”?

    In order to posit a thinking subject we must already have thought of the concept of the division into subject and object and its underlying representational relationship. Steiner’s starting position is “there is thinking”, not “I as subject think”.

    CharlieM: He argued that the limits set by Kant could be transcended.

    Kantian Naturalist: Sure, everyone thinks that — except for the most orthodox of neo-Kantians and positivists, I guess.

    The question is, how?

    By realising that by adding concepts to that which we perceive gives us the full reality. The “thing in itself” is just a speculation about a hidden reality with properties borrowed from our phenomenal experience. The only entity that we do not first experience without the corresponding concepts is thinking. It is directly apprehended in its full reality. Thinking is the self enclosed reality which we need add nothing to.

  47. Corneel:
    CharlieM: As for Steiner’s perceived racism, I would not condone it but we have to remember those were different times where the majority of people never saw anything wrong with statements which today would be considered highly offensive.

    Corneel: I’d agree with that, but please mind that I just read the text that you presented. If you believe these transcripts do not properly communicate what you think is worthwhile about Steiner’s teachings, then do not link to them.
    So … can we agree that peach-blossom does not represent “the living image of the soul” and that Steiner was just talking nonsense?

    It is important to understand that Steiner was giving these lectures to artists who would have been trying to capture images of their models in their paintings.

    It is hard to understand what he is talking about without going into the complexities of his explanation of colours. For example he divides colour into lustre colours and image colours. Artists take these things into consideration when painting landscapes and the like. Green is the image of the living, it is the lifeless image of the living. It becomes static on a surface. On the other hand red and blue can be experienced in movement, the former advancing and the latter receding. What Steiner calls peach blossom is the magenta seen in the dark spectrum when the opposite ends of the spectrum come together over darkness. Compared to green it has a dynamic quality.

    Corneel: Can we also agree that you are pretty much doing the same thing here?:

    CharlieM: Looking at the fresh, vibrant colours of new growth is a good indication of a strong life force and then seeing decay where the colour drains from that which was once alive demonstrates the ever weakening life force.

    No.

  48. In order to posit a thinking subject we must already have thought of the concept of the division into subject and object and its underlying representational relationship.

    I worry that this conflates two different ways of understanding the subject/object distinction.

    On one version, we talk about objects as having fully determinate natures independent of all subjects and we talk about subjects as having their own fully determinate natures independent of all objects. Given this picture, the question then becomes how to think about the relationship between subjects and objects, and then we introduce the concept of “representation”: the contents of subjects are representations of objects external to and independent of them.

    On another version, we think about subjects and objects as mutually co-determining: there’s no conceptual grasp of something even being an object without some possible subject, and conversely, no conceptual grasp of something even being a subject without some possible object. There’s a fundamental mutuality of self and world, with neither thinkable with the other.

    In other words, is the “representational relationship” an external relation or an internal relation?

    Depending on whether we think of “the representational relation” as external or as internal, we’ll confront different questions about what is needed to “overcome” it — if indeed anything is.

    Steiner’s starting position is “there is thinking”, not “I as subject think”.

    It’s quite true that “there is thinking” is in some sense logically prior to “I think”. Nietzsche makes this point, and it becomes important for Rudolf Carnap (in The Logical Construction of the World) and Jean-Paul Sartre (in The Transcendence of the Ego and Being and Nothingness). (However, I would not be at all surprised if Nietzsche lifted it from someone else he had read. His originality is highly over-rated.)

    In any event, I don’t think “there is thinking” can work at all in the way Steiner says. On your view of Steiner:

    By realising that by adding concepts to that which we perceive gives us the full reality. The “thing in itself” is just a speculation about a hidden reality with properties borrowed from our phenomenal experience. The only entity that we do not first experience without the corresponding concepts is thinking. It is directly apprehended in its full reality. Thinking is the self enclosed reality which we need add nothing to.

    I don’t see how this is supposed to work. “Thinking” is also a concept, and we couldn’t recognize thinking as thinking if we didn’t have the concept of it. So we can’t encounter thinking if we are abstracting away from all concepts.

    I think that a much sounder approach was scouted by C. I. Lewis in his Mind and the World Order (1924), when he pointed out that if we abstract away from all concepts, what we’re left with, as “the Given”, is completely ineffable and indescribable.

    At this point, however, we encounter a very difficult problem: whether the Given can be a foundation or starting-point for epistemology.

    In order for something to function as a foundation for epistemology, it must have logical entailments: you have to be able to logically derive something from it. If it’s logically inert, so to speak, it doesn’t have any inferential consequences.

    What Steiner seems to want is something that is both epistemically efficacious — it can serve as a foundation for epistemological statements — but also epistemically independent — since it has to be devoid of all presuppositions.

    And this is logically incoherent.

    Here’s why: logical structure is conceptual structure. Without conceptual structure, there are no logical properties, no inferential properties, and no epistemic properties.

    According to you, Steiner wants to place the sheer awareness of thought as an epistemic foundation. But his argument for this (as far as you can tell us) is that the awareness of thought is prior to all conceptual discrimination.

    And that’s simply false, since one could not even recognize thought as thought without the concept of thought. (There could be thinking without the concept of thought, but not awareness of thought as thought, which is what Steiner is after.)

    But if we insist on the idea that the foundation of knowledge must be without presuppositions, and then say that we can only get rid of presuppositions by abstracting away from all conceptual discrimination, then we aren’t left with thought: we’re left with what Lewis calls “the Given”, which has no conceptual features at all and therefore no epistemic properties at all.

    It cannot, in fact, be described at all — it is ineffable and indescribable — though William James probably comes closest when he uses the phrase “a blooming buzzing confusion” to describe the awareness of a newborn infant.

    In other words, if we avoid all conceptual determinations in order to uncover the Given, when what we find cannot be a foundation for epistemology.

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