Further Thoughts on the Evolution of Consciousness

Continuing a discussion I and one or two others were having in the thread vincent-torleys-disappearing-book-review it is of little surprise that those responding to what I said, along with many of the posters here, regard consciousness as a product of matter. I believe that it is the other way round. As with Owen Barfield and John Davy, I came to this conclusion many, many years ago, and for me like them, Rudolf Steiner was a big influence in solidifying this view. Here is an extract from an article about Owen Barfield from Richard A. Hocks

Barfield’s precoccupation with the history of consciousness is different from even the most saturated analyses of the past, such as Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis. Barfield maintains that, in any thoughtful consideration of evolution, it is both more reasonable and more illuminating to hold that mind, or consciousness, precedes matter rather than the reverse–though not individualized mind or self-consciousness. Not only does the origin of language point toward this supposition but also the content of the great myths, indeed even the very archetypes that a thinker like Jung explores so deeply yet without ever considering that that they might inhabit the world “outside” the human head–or a vast collection of human heads. In other words, evolution for Barfield begins with mind as anterior to matter, as a given “field” out of which, as it were, matter compresses. Barfield’s thesis herein does not merely challenge the Darwinian argument; in a sense it turns that argument on its head: for not only does mind precede and bring matter into being, and a form of intentionality replace chance-ridden natural selection, but the very same physical evidence used in support of the received position is never directly challenged or discredited, but interpreted differently…

Here are some words from John Davy (pseudonym, John Waterman) who gives an overview of Steiner’s thoughts on the evolution of physical life better than I ever could:

John Davy:

The evolution of man, Steiner said, has consisted in the gradual incarnation of a spiritual being into a material body. It has been a true “descent” of man from a spiritual world into a world of matter. The evolution of the animal kingdom did not precede, but rather ;accompanied; the process of human incarnation. Man is thus not the end result of the evolution of the animals, but is rather in a certain sense their cause. In the succession of types which appears in the fossil record-the fishes, reptiles, mammals, and finally fossil remains of man himself-the stages of this process of incarnation are reflected.

Steiner asks us to conceive of the form of man as originally an “imagination”, an archetypal Idea created by exalted spiritual beings, and existing spiritually, devoid of physical substance. Physical evolution records the preparation of a physical vehicle fashioned in the image of this archetype, in which the spirit of man could live.

The gradual shaping of this vehicle was a long evolutionary process. The spiritual powers could not produce a ready-made human body any more than parents can give birth to an adult child. A kind of spiritual embryology had to guide the development of the body of man.

This physical vehicle, Steiner says, accordingly passed through several distinct stages.These include a fish-like stage, a reptile-like stage, before the gradual emergence of the final human form. At each stage, the spiritual human being was able to unite more closely with his physical vehicle. But it was not until quite recent times-the Tertiary in geological terms-that the physical vehicle began to match the archetypal Idea sufficiently to allow the human spirit to enter into it.

What, then, is the relation according to Steiner between the evolutionary stages of man and the physical fossils found in the earth? The fish-like stage of the human body described by Steiner only contained physical substance in the most tenuous way. It must be thought of as a largely spiritual entity with only the most delicate and scarecly substantial physical elements-rather as some of the frailer jellyfish live in the sea like insubstantial ghosts, more that ninety-nine percent water, with only the most diaphanous membranes to give them form. Certainly, there was no question of this early human stage containing sufficiently mineralised matter to leave fossil remains.

On the other hand, the existence of such a delicate physical-spiritual vehicle provided an opportunity for other spiritual beings to incarnate. The fish “archetype” could enter fully into this tenuous vehicle and carry it down to earth. This meant filling out the body with physical substance, coarsening it, giving it firm bones and hard scales. In this way, the fish appeared in the fossil record. They reflect the fact that man was passing at that time through a fish-like stage, and simultaniously represent the incarnation of the fish “type” on earth. The same applies to the reptiles, and-in a more complex way-to the mammals. The animals have thus diverged from the line of human evolution, and plunged sooner and deeper into an involvement with the earth. Instead of the animals being the ancestors of human beings, man is the ancestor of the animal.

Now this is very brief and crude sketch of some very complicated and difficult aspects of Steiner’s account of evolution. It would lead too far to discuss here the origin of the “animal” archetypes and their relation to man. The question I want to consider is whether this central concept of incarnating spiritual archetypes can be related to the current scientific view of evolution.

The biological concept of “adaptive radiation” is, in fact, an expression of this process of incarnation. When a new generalised type appears in the fossil record its full possibilities are still hidden, so to speak. From Steiner’s standpoint, we see an animal archetype gradually incarnating, establishing a closer and more intimate contact with the earth. Adaptive radiation expresses the gradual emergence on the earthly scene of an archetype in its full complexity.

This suggests that the genetical concept of a flow of random mutations into the hereditary constitution of a species is too limited. Many people have found it difficult to imagine that a random process could produce all the fantastic adaptations found in the animal kingdom. The difficulty, most biologists say, is imaginative rather than logical, and they discount it. For in theory, a random mutation process, given time, could produce all the necessary adaptations, just as a team of monkeys with typewriters might eventually hammer out Hamlet by chance. Furthermore, they might produce it sooner if they were rewarded each time they produced a coherent word, and rewarded still more generously for each iambic pentameter. In the same way, natural selection could steer a random mutation process towards a coherent end. Fisher has described natural selection as “a mechanism for generating an exceedingly high degree of improbability”.

Nevertheless, the fact that monkeys could theoretically type Hamlet does not mean that Shakespeare was a monkey. The random mutation theory allows virually anything to happen. But the fact that it allows this does not prove that what happened necessarily arose by random mutation. The concept of evolution by accident is sometimes made by biologists to seem more compusory than its logic-or lack of it-really justifies.

But curiously enough, because the theory so anarchic and can “explain” almost anything, biologists have now come to talk of adaptations in a way which sometimes sound more Lamarkian than Darwinian. For instance, P. M. Sheppard in; Natural Selection and Hereditary; writes of the evolution of the horse thus: “Life in open country favoured swifter, larger animals which were more easily able to see and avoid their predators. Consequently, selection favoured an increase in body size and a reduction in the number of toes, for this gave greater speed. At the same time the teeth also became larger and more durable, a necessary change to allow for the greater volume of food taken by a larger animal.”

The horse, in fact, got what it needed. The imagination may balk at the idea that the genetic constitution had ready by chance, and at the right time, all the complex variability needed to allow the appropriate changesto take place. But genetic theory leads us to expect improbable events. And by permitting almost infinite possibilities, it puts itself in an impregnable position.

The trouble with a theory which can explain everything is that it does not really explain anything. In fact it does no more than offer one way of imagining how the horse could have evolved. Some biologists seem to argue that the very improbability of the evolution of the horse proves the theory is correct. They should look to their logic.

The real virtue of neo-Darwinism, to my mind, is that it has focused attention on adaptations. The theory predicts that practically every feature of an animal should have some function, should make sense in relation to its environment. This has led to a tremendous revival of field studies, and scientific naturalists have been discovering more and more of the extraordinary beauty and subtlety of animals’ relations with their environment. Even what appeared to be purely “decorative” features of birds or fishes, for instance, are gradually being shown to be intimately related to the animals’ pattern of behaviour. Thus while the theory has as its foundation mere random events, it has led to a much more meaningful understanding of the way animals actually live.

Such natural wisdom in animals’ lives is just what would be expected if they were an expresion of spiritual archetypes. Such archetypes would nowhere establish a senseless relationship with the earth. Every feature would have purpose and meaning, however subtle and elusive. Thus the real clash between Steiner and science, as far as this aspect of evolution goes, is the question of the source of variability or inner plasticity of a species. According to science, this is the flow of random events. According to Steiner, it is a stream of wisdom flowing from the archetype into the physical animals, and gradually manifesting in adaptive radiation.

There is , however, another aspect of evolution which is something of a problem for orthodox theory, and which Steiner’s descriptions illuminate. For evolution has not been only a matter of adaptation and specialisation. There has also been “progress”, or what Huxley calls “improvement”.

New kinds of biological organisation have appeared in the fossil record. The water-living fish are followed by the land-living reptiles, and they are followed by the warm-blooded mammals.These are major changes, not simply adaptations. Sheppard (op. cit.) calls them “inventions”.

Now there is no specific provision for this kind of biological reorganisation in genetic theory. In fact, it seems to run counter to expectation in some respects. For the essence of natural selection and adaptation is gradual specialisation, and closer ties with a particular environment. But a major reoganisation is inconceivable for a specialised creature.

Yet the main steps from fish to reptile, and reptile to mammal, seem to have been accompanied by an “escape” from specialisation. The early representatives of a new group in the fossil record are generalised, and then gradually undergo adaptive radiation. (The early reptiles later gave rise, for instance, to a host of specialised crawling, flying, running, swimming and climbing forms.)

One of the most interesting ideas put forward by biologists to account for such escape from specialisation is “neoteny”. This idea starts from the fact that the young of many animals show fewer specialised features than the adults. If a juvenile stage were to become prematurely able to reproduce, a new “juvenile” and less specialised line of creatures might result. Neoteny actually occurs in some animals today-for instance, the Mexican axolotl-an apparently adult creature-in actuality a neotenous form of the North American salamander. Professor Alistair Hardy has suggested that this process “seems likely to have provided some of the more fundsmental innovations in the course of evolution”.

The principal biological advances are thus considered by Hardy to have been facilitated by a kind of rejuvenation in its literal sense-a “making young again”. Now Rudolf Steiner’s account of evolution indicates that the emergence of a new “improved” group of animals into the fossil record is the result of a new divergence from the human line of evolution. The principal divergences gave rise to the main phyla-fishes, reptiles and mammals. And each represents a major biological advance-from water to land (reptiles), then from cold blood to warm-blood (mammals). These steps reflect important advances in the preparation of the human body.

According to Steiner, the human line retained its youth longest, so to speak. It held back from involvement with the earth longer than the animals. But as each phylum emerges into the fossil record, it still bears within it some of the “youthfulness” derived from its recent connection with human evolution.

Man as he is now still expresses physically more of this youthful quality than any of the animals. Many of his physical features (for instance his hands) are extremely unspecialised and versatile. He is not forced by his anatomy into such specialised relationships with his environment. It is no accident that young animals sometimes seem more “human” than their adult parents. They carry a kind of physical memory of a time when they were closer to man. This effect is at its most dramatic in apes and monkeys. An infant ape looks surprisingly like a very ancient and senile man. But an adult ape is completely an animal. Growing up, in animals, still reflects the original growing away from the human form.

Man’s relationship to the apes and monkeys is thus the opposite of that normally assumed. The apes are creatures which descended to earth just before man. They took hold of the almost human form and carried it prematurely into too deep and specialised a connection with the earth.They are literally “descended from man”.

Anatomists have often noted the resemblance between man and the “foetal ape”. According to science, man is a kind of neotenous or juvenile monkey. According to Steiner, the trajedy of the apes is that they are, in a sense, prematurely senile men at birth. Their growing up carries them deep into the animal world.

The “descent of man” to earth has separated him more and more from his spiritual origins. And physical evolution has been accompanied by a profound spiritual evolution, an evolution of human consciousness. Its effect has been that man has lost direct awareness of the spiritual worlds out of which he is born. But he has gained self-consciousness.

This process of withdrawal into a physical body and into a central point-like self-consciousness has given rise to our essentially dualistic outlook today. Man experiences himself as a detached onlooker, observing a separate “outer” world. This, according to Steiner, represents the deepest incarnation of the human spirit into the body. The descent of man is complete.

But evolution, Steiner says, has now reached a turning-point. The ascent of man is beginning, and the first step is that man will gradually begin to carry his “objective” consciousness into a new relationship with the spiritual world. The fruit of this process is to be true spiritual freedom. Such an experience of freedom, however, has only become possible by passing through the present experience of spiritual isolation.

How has this transformation of the evolutionary process been achieved? Through the Incarnation of the true Archetype of Man, in whose image we aare created and whom we call the Christ. This event was the turning-point of the evolutionary process.

Without the intervention of the Christ Being, according to Steiner, the descent of man would have continued. The human spirit would have been mastered by the processes of incarnation. Man would have been irrevocably entangled in the earth.

Through the events on Golgotha, the Image of Man, that original Imagination which had gradually descended into physical embodiment, was redeemed. Good Friday is the final Descent of Man. On Easter Sunday, the turning-point of time, the metamorphosis of the whole evolutionary process is achieved.

Through the redemption of the human form, the way is open for a redemption of human consciousness. But this cannot be achieved by a divine intervention, for ths would deny just that spiritual freedom which is the purpose of human evolution. Man must undertake the spiritualising of his consciousness by his own efforts and his own choice. But if he makes the choice and the efforts, he will not be left alone. He will receive, in Christian terms, the gift of the Holy Spirit. After Easter will come Whitsun.

Steiner’s central purpose was to set man’s feet firmly on this road. And he maintained that while many of the things he said might still seem strange to the present age, this would be less so as time went on. Just below the surface, so to speak, human consciousness is evolving. The climate of human thought is already completely different from Darwin’s day.

It is, therefore, not unexpected that there should be some striking echoes of Steiner’s account of the significance of evolution in the work of a “scientific humanist” like Huxley.

Modern biology is, of course, still deeply imbued with nineteenth-century assumptions-but there are signs that it is beginning to struggle hard to free itself. Steiner’s view of evolution offers a tremendous liberation to the human spirit, whose effects would work creatively throughout society. In many ways neo-Darwininsm is much nearer to Steiner than would have seemed possible at the beginning of this century. If this essay can accelerate this trend, even slightly, it will have achieved its purpose.

A short series which gives a nice precise of the thoughts of Barfield in the book “Saving the Appearances” begins here on Youtube.

222 thoughts on “Further Thoughts on the Evolution of Consciousness

  1. Acartia: Try reading my comments in context. Or suggest an experimental design that would prove that free will exists.

    I am not sure how your context changes my question.

    You said every change in thought is preceded by a change in chemicals. If that is so, what changes the chemicals?

    Furthermore, if that is so, as many here want to claim, then it is logically not possible to make a decision. There is only the illusion of a decision after the fact.

    You are not the only one dancing around this problem-apparently no one here can answer how you can make a decision, if first there is a chemical change which tells you the decision you are going to make.

  2. phoodoo:

    You said every change in thought is preceded by a change in chemicals. Is that is so, what changes the chemicals?

    Furthermore, if that is so, as many here want to claim, then it is logically not possible to make a decision. Their is only the illusion of a decision after the fact.

    You are not the only one dancing around this problem-apparently no one here can answer how you can make a decision, if first there is a chemical change which tells you the decision you are going to make.

    Mung and phoodoo are trying to outdo each other in inanity today.

  3. CharlieM: …the world-picture with which we begin philosophical reflection already contains predicates mediated through cognition. These cannot be accepted uncritically, but must be carefully removed from the world-picture so that it can be considered free of anything introduced through the process of knowledge. This division between the “given” and the “known” will not in fact, coincide with any stage of human development; the boundary must be drawn artificially. But this can be done at every level of development so long as we draw the dividing line correctly between what confronts us free of all conceptual definitions, and what cognition subsequently makes of it.

    What I want to stress here is how the distinction between “what confronts us free of all conceptual definitions” and “what cognition subsequently makes of it” is always a posit that philosophers introduce in the course of reflecting on and justifying the adequacy of our world-picture, relative to its predecessors and rivals. That justification must be grounded in a synoptic view that collects the best results of successful empirical theories (including, especially, cognitive science) and constructs a speculative picture of what the world must be like in order for beings like ourselves to have the kind of knowledge that we do.

    Perhaps Steiner would agree with that much; I don’t know.

    But where I go with that thought, in the direction already laid out by far better philosophers before me, is to say that “what confronts us free of all conceptual definitions” is just sensations or (if one prefers a more active-sounding term) sensings. Sensings in turn are explained (from within the evolving scientific world-picture, of course!) in terms of the play of energies across our sensory receptors, those energies having the structure that they do by virtue of their entanglement with the causal and model structure of many different kinds of nonlinear dynamical processes.

    Likewise, with “what cognition subsequently makes of it” we also need to draw upon our best empirical science in order to understand cognition actually is, including (on my preferred model) what I call two-dimensional intentionality, this being (1) the perceptuo-practical dimension of skilled bodily coping in an environment, a dimension common to all complex animals, and (2) another dimension that I take to be unique to human beings (though with clear antecedents among our closest relatives), which is socio-linguistic intentionality. And of course both dimensions of intentionality must themselves be identified as precisely as possible ((an identification also carried out from within the evolving scientific world-picture) with the causal structures that implement those intentional functions, i.e. neurophysiological and bodily processes.

    You will see, then, that I regard it as possible to accept — in some sense — Steiner’s epistemological method while at the same time rejecting the spiritualism and mysticism that he attempts to establish ontologically on the basis of that method.

  4. keiths,

    You want to say something Keiths?

    You ducked this question several times before I have noted. If a decision is preceded by a chemical change, then it is not a decision, correct?

    Let’s see how many times you can try to deflect or avoid this obvious problem.

  5. phoodoo: You are not the only one dancing around this problem-apparently no one here can answer how you can make a decision, if first there is a chemical change which tells you the decision you are going to make.

    I think you are finally understanding the conundrum. You assert that we have free will but can’t envision an experiment to demonstrate this. I have never said anything one way or the other about the existance of free will, only that we can’t test for existance. So, of the two of us, who is dancing?

  6. CharlieM: Okay, let’s say bacteria and humans had a common ancestor several hundred million years ago. Bacteria will have had many more generations than human ancestors since the split but we will disregard that. Evolution can be said to be descent with modification or change over time. Most likely the common ancestor would have been a single-cell, bacterium-like organism. So between humans and bacteria which one do you think has changed or been modified the most?

    The most changed (modified) is not a measure of most evolved. And you are biasing your opinion based on the fact that you are a human. An E. Coil cell of today is every bit as evolved as you are. It could be argued that E. Coli is more evolved because they are able to be extremely fit without the need of multicellularity and complex organs.

  7. Acartia,

    When did I ever talk about an experiment to demonstrate it? If you are the materialist, then I guess you must believe that there is an experiment to demonstrate it. Or else you don’t believe in free will? Its one or the other for you right?

    I am not a materialist, so why would I believe there is a physical experiment you can do?

  8. Acartia: You assert that we have free will but can’t envision an experiment to demonstrate this.

    No Free Will of the Gaps!

    You don’t believe we have free will. But as you admit, there’s no evidence either way. We just sit back and laugh as you claim to be choosing to believe there is no free will.

    Yes. Laughing.

  9. Acartia: The most changed (modified) is not a measure of most evolved.

    Why isn’t the most changed the most evolved? The word evolved means changed? What else does the word mean, if not that?

    In one fell swoop you are attempting to totally redefine a word. What’s your new definition of evolved?

  10. phoodoo: What’s your new definition of evolved?

    When all else fails, it means a change in allele frequencies. Every birth and every death proves that evolution is true.

  11. Mung,

    Except it has to mean something other than a “change” in allele frequency, because evolve no longer means change. The allele frequency I guess could remain exactly the same forever, and that would also mean evolved. Just like what happens in bacteria after 4 billion years-they have pretty much the exact same genes.

  12. I’ve been assured that the essential elements of evolution are birth (copying) and death (elimination). If your GA does not have those two things it is not GA.

  13. CharlieM,

    As people here must know, I am no fan of skepticism myself, but surely you don’t think the ‘Epistemological Conclusion’ from the earlier work you linked is an actual refutation of the position.

    I mean, you can tell he’s trying–that’s something anyhow. But the arguments are all bad. You can pretty much take any ‘thus” or ‘so’ or ‘then’ in there, and what he says won’t follow from what preceded it. I don’t really know what else to say.

    I do think there are distinctions to be made between such acts as seeing and seeing-as, and it makes sense to try to distinguish conceptual from non-conceptual thought. And he seems to have some sense that he can’t really do it, that he doesn’t have the tools. But then he forgets and goes on as if he can manage it somehow. As I say, he’s trying–and that’s something.

    I don’t know what else to say except that he’s not read today, because (besides having a bunch of crazy mystical views) he didn’t move the sticks forward. Not just not a Kant (which is no sin) but not even a Herder. More of a Bosanquet than a Bradley, even.

  14. Kantian Naturalist: What I want to stress here is how the distinction between “what confronts us free of all conceptual definitions” and “what cognition subsequently makes of it” is always a posit that philosophers introduce in the course of reflecting on and justifying the adequacy of our world-picture, relative to its predecessors and rivals. That justification must be grounded in a synoptic view that collects the best results of successful empirical theories (including, especially, cognitive science) and constructs a speculative picture of what the world must be like in order for beings like ourselves to have the kind of knowledge that we do.

    Perhaps Steiner would agree with that much; I don’t know.

    The whole point of Steiner’s philosophy as laid out here is that we do not speculate about some unknown world hidden behind the world of our experience. The act of attaching the correct concept to the percept which we are focusing our attention on gives us its reality. This is a process of re-combining what only appears to be separate because of our organisation. We put back together that which we have torn apart in the first place. There is no speculation in this theory of knowledge.

    With this theory of knowledge we do actually “save the appearances” as in Barfield’s book. But we save the appearances while at the same time maintaining their reality. The world we experience is real, thrushes are real, tables are real, clouds are real. We do not save the appearances by positing any hidden unknowable world behind the world of our experience.

    But where I go with that thought, in the direction already laid out by far better philosophers before me, is to say that “what confronts us free of all conceptual definitions” is just sensations or (if one prefers a more active-sounding term) sensings. Sensings in turn are explained (from within the evolving scientific world-picture, of course!) in terms of the play of energies across our sensory receptors, those energies having the structure that they do by virtue of their entanglement with the causal and model structure of many different kinds of nonlinear dynamical processes.

    You have then ignored Steiner’s starting point. By positing sensations/sensing, you are providing a concept of action; an effect on something. Steiner begins with the Given which just is. At this point he does not posit it acting on anything. To this he adds thinking and at this stage he doesn’t stipulate what or who thinks, just that there is thinking. He does not start with the “I” because the concept of “I” is only gained after thinking has taken place.

    Likewise, with “what cognition subsequently makes of it” we also need to draw upon our best empirical science in order to understand cognition actually is, including (on my preferred model) what I call two-dimensional intentionality, this being (1) the perceptuo-practical dimension of skilled bodily coping in an environment, a dimension common to all complex animals, and (2) another dimension that I take to be unique to human beings (though with clear antecedents among our closest relatives), which is socio-linguistic intentionality. And of course both dimensions of intentionality must themselves be identified as precisely as possible ((an identification also carried out from within the evolving scientific world-picture) with the causal structures that implement those intentional functions, i.e. neurophysiological and bodily processes.

    You will see, then, that I regard it as possible to accept — in some sense — Steiner’s epistemological method while at the same time rejecting the spiritualism and mysticism that he attempts to establish ontologically on the basis of that method.

    Steiner claims that he relates only that which he has experienced. It doesn’t matter whether we believe him or we think that he is deluded in this, because, as he frequently said, he did not want anyone to believe anything that he said. He wanted people to think for themselves. On the other hand he did not want people to reject out of hand what he said without thinking about it in an unbaised way.

  15. walto:
    CharlieM,

    As people here must know, I am no fan of skepticism myself, but surely you don’t think the ‘Epistemological Conclusion’ from the earlier work you linked is an actual refutation of the position.

    I mean, you can tell he’s trying–that’s something anyhow. But the arguments are all bad. You can pretty much take any ‘thus” or ‘so’ or ‘then’ in there, and what he says won’t follow from what preceded it. I don’t really know what else to say.

    Well you could start by giving us just one example of where his argument is “bad”.

    I do think there are distinctions to be made between such acts as seeing and seeing-as, and it makes sense to try to distinguish conceptual from non-conceptual thought. And he seems to have some sense that he can’t really do it, that he doesn’t have the tools. But then he forgets and goes on as if he can manage it somehow. As I say, he’s trying–and that’s something.

    You’ll have to explain to me what you mean by “non-conceptual thought”. I do not see where non-conceptual though fits in a theory of knowledge.

    I don’t know what else to say except that he’s not read today, because (besides having a bunch of crazy mystical views) he didn’t move the sticks forward. Not just not a Kant (which is no sin) but not even a Herder. More of a Bosanquet than a Bradley, even.

    Thank you for your opinion.

  16. CharlieM: Well you could start by giving us just one example of where his argument is “bad”.

    Ok, but just one.

    The adherent of scepticism must cease to doubt the possibility of knowing the world, for there is no room for doubt in regard to the “given” — it is still untouched by all predicates later bestowed on it by means of cognition. Should the sceptic maintain that our cognitive thinking can never approach the world, he can only maintain this with the help of thinking, and in so doing refutes himself. Whoever attempts to establish doubt in thinking by means of thinking itself admits, by implication, that thinking contains a power strong enough to support a conviction.

    This doesn’t work because the range of “cognitive thinking” is not limited to thoughts suggesting beliefs about the external world. That is, one might think that reasoning ought to be trusted and still deny that every apparent belief is true. That’s all the skeptic needs.

    The other thing I mentioned, about conceptual and non-conceptual thought, is obviously something that particularly interested Steiner, although he uses different terms. He talks about cognitive thought and the mind’s organization of things with the use of predicates. There’s a bunch of discussion of that issue in the two most recent excerpts you posted.

    As I said, I give him credit for discussing that–because it’s interesting and (to my mind) important stuff, but I don’t think he made any progress. If that kind of thing interests you, and you’d like to see some higher quality work in that area, I recommend the late Fred Dretske’s booksSeeing and Knowing and Naturalizing the Mind. Also Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.

    The thing is (if I may be so bold), what you like about Steiner is not his acumen in philosophy (such as it was) but his mystical conclusions which you find comforting. You like the idea that they are pushed by somebody who seems to be doing philosophy, but (i) his philosophy wasn’t much good; and (ii) to the extent that any of it wasn’t terrible, those conclusions you like don’t follow from it anyhow.

    I apologize for being so harsh, but much, perhaps most, of the philosophy strewn around this site seems to me highly correlated with what is congenial/comforting to the poster. I admit that I’m not immune to that myself. Perhaps nobody is. But one should fight that tendency, I think.

  17. walto: I apologize for being so harsh, but much, perhaps most, of the philosophy strewn around this site seems to me highly correlated with what is congenial/comforting to the poster. I admit that I’m not immune to that myself. Nobody is. But one should fight it, I think.

    Or at least be willing to recognize that there are better and worse arguments for the convictions that you want to be true.

    I’m certainly not immune to that myself, but I hope that on average and over time my curiosity is stronger than my biases.

  18. walto: Ok, but just one.

    This doesn’t work because the range of “cognitive thinking” is not limited to thoughts suggesting beliefs about the external world.That is, one might think that reasoning ought to be trusted and still deny that every apparent belief is true.That’s all the skeptic needs.

    We cannot doubt the reality of thinking, for thinking is a fact. We can doubt all other entities that enter our consciousness, sounds, visual appearances, thoughts about things, etc. Let’s call these things perceptual experiences. By adding concepts to these experiences we gain knowledge, but we can still doubt that our concepts added to these experiences gives us reality. Thinking is different because unlike all these other activities, the percept and the concept are never separated. We know it directly. What you are talking about above is not “thinking” (which cannot be said to be in error, just as an apple cannot be said to be in error). You are talking about ‘thought about things’ which of course can be said to be in error.

    The other thing I mentioned, about conceptual and non-conceptual thought, is obviously something that particularly interested Steiner, although he uses different terms.He talks about cognitive thought and the mind’s organization of things with the use of predicates.There’s a bunch of discussion of that issue in the two most recent excerpts you posted.

    As I said, I give him credit for discussing that–because it’s interesting and (to my mind) important stuff, but I don’t think he made any progress.If that kind of thing interests you, and you’d like to see some higher quality work in that area, I recommend the late Fred Dretske’s booksSeeing and Knowing and Naturalizing the Mind. Also Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.

    Looking at Dretske’s Seeing and Thinking”, this is not even concerned with finding a starting point for epistemology. He jumps straight in to dicussing sentient beings who “see” external (and sometimes internal) entities without his giving a thought for what subjectivity and objectivity means and how we distinguish the two.

    The thing is (if I may be so bold), what you like about Steiner is not his acumen in philosophy (such as it was) but his mystical conclusions which you find comforting.You like the idea that they are pushed by somebody who seems to be doing philosophy, but (i) his philosophy wasn’t much good; and (ii) to the extent that any of it wasn’t terrible, those conclusions you like don’t follow from it anyhow.

    I apologize for being so harsh, but much, perhaps most, of the philosophy strewn around this site seems to me highly correlated with what is congenial/comforting to the poster.I admit that I’m not immune to that myself.Perhaps nobody is.But one should fight that tendency, I think.

    Don’t apologize. I’m not here to have a nice friendly chat with like-minded people, I am looking for criticism which will test my ideas and keep my thoughts on track.

  19. walto: I apologize for being so harsh, but much, perhaps most, of the philosophy strewn around this site seems to me highly correlated with what is congenial/comforting to the poster.

    I know hardly anything about philosophy and I do my best to show it.

    🙂

  20. FWIW, I just noticed the following remarks about Steiner in the new (9/12/16) New Yorker. In a piece called “Ghost Stories” Burkhard Bilger writes,

    “To our modern way of thinking, this all sounds quite insane,” Rudolf Steiner, the patron saint of organic agriculture and alternative schooling declared in 1924. He had just urged an audience of Silesian farmers to fertilize their fields with cow intestines stuffed with chamomile blossoms, and stag bladders filled with yarrow root (stag bladders being “almost an image of the cosmos”. Steiner claimed that he…could see spirits in his waking life. “Just as in the body, eye and ear develop as organs of perception,” he wrote, “so does a man develop in himself spiritual organs of perception through which the soul and spiritual worlds are opened to him.”

    IMHO, one should strive NOT to be taken in by that sort of crapola. It may take some balls, but best to be brave as one can, Pascal notwithstanding.

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