PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 83 2nd May 2004
I. Announcement of the first Pathways scholarship awards
II. 'The Science of Freewill' by Michael Ward
III. 'Objective and Subjective Religiousness' by D.V. Pivovarov
Following the announcement of the Pathways scholarship program in the last issue (82), I have reproduced extracts from the application forms submitted by the first two successful Pathways scholars, Azim Zahir and Tim Kellebrew. I think you will agree that they are worthy recipients of the award.
Pathways student Michael Ward is currently following the Philosophy of Language program, having completed his Pathways program on the Philosophy of Mind. Here he discusses the implications for the traditional concept of free will of neurophysiological research by Professor V.S. Ramachandran concerning the causal aetiology of volitional behaviour.
In complete contrast to Michael Ward's paper, Professor D.V. Pivovarov of the University of the Urals relates Rudolph Otto's concept of the 'numinous' to a vision, which is not inconsistent with scientific understanding of the cosmos, of the existence of 'an ultimate power centre... the centre of the universe, to which all hidden strings of life are attracted.'
I. ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE FIRST PATHWAYS SCHOLARSHIP AWARDS
We are proud to announce the award of the first two Pathways scholarships, worth 240 GBP each, to Azim Zahir, who works in the President's Office in the Maldives, and Tim Kellebrew, a counsellor from Portland Oregon, USA.
Azim Zahir is being mentored by John Brandon and Tim Kellebrew by Jurgen Lawrenz. Both have selected Program A. Introduction to Philosophy 'The Possible World Machine' as their philosophy pathway.
I was moved by Azim Zahir's account, on his application form of the origin of his interest in philosophy. I was also impressed by Tim Kellebrew's short essay in answer to the question, 'Why be Moral?'
'Why do you want to study philosophy?'
This has been a difficult question to satisfactorily answer. Many have been asking me why I want to study Philosophy, and to my surprise I find no obvious answer. Let me but try:
The origin of my interest to pursue philosophy I think springs from my enthusiasm in the questions of religion (Islam predominantly). There was a point in my life while I was in the 9th grade when a despair so strong hit me that nothing would any more make me be awed by the all-too determinate answers of my Islam teachers. That was when I came to read a photocopied chapter from a book I still do not know about on God's existence which a friend shared me. (There was no an easy access to the Internet back then in the Maldives. It was only in about the year 1996 that they introduced Internet here).
That was a turning point. I was at once absorbed into it: excerpts from the works by St Thomas, Anselm, Descartes, and most importantly Kant and Hume were there. They all with no exception had a tone that I had not found previously in my Islam books. The tone of Reason. Arguments of a different order as opposed to arguments backed up by the 'wonders' which we see in the 'alternation of day and night', 'in the germination and growth of a big tree from a minuscule seed', and 'the wonderful smile on the baby's face', etc. all of which triggered reverie and emotional agreement in us.
My curiosity into philosophy escalated and I started to go to the National Library where they 'kept' few philosophy related books, apparently being unaware of that. (They do not allow books which might be a threat to religious interest.) In philosophy books' stead I found some friends who were interested in philosophy. And one of them lent me 'Questions of Philosophy', which happened to be the determining book in my pursuit into philosophy: 'The unexamined life is not worth living.'
In addition to the forgoing reasons, there might be some 'ulterior' reasons which the Psychoanalyst will better tell you!
'Why be Moral?'
To this writer, this is probably one of the most important questions out of the four listed, as it seems highly important to our world, communities, and to the structure of civilization at all levels. It is both an interpersonal concern and an intrapersonal one. It is a concern that transcends my own views at times, and yet demands a personal responsibility to behave in such a way that assures the well being of my fellows.
My first consideration for being moral must rest with the fact that if I am going to be part of a community, culture, or group of likeminded individuals, then I must take steps to assure our mutual goal directedness. If I am concerned about this, and have also developed affiliations, liking, or loving relationships with others close to me, then I am bound to be moral out of consideration for both of our interests. Pointedly, I simply do not wish to hurt those that I love or affiliate with by doing something that would be considered "immoral" to our shared belief system.
My second consideration for being moral has more to do with my sense of individuality than my sense of community. Namely, being moral has a great deal to do with developing my own sense of not only personality but what values I hold onto to, or those that I am not going to endorse. This values clarification is exceedingly important in helping me to set the goals I wish to achieve and the behaviors that others are going to see. This affects how I am treated by others, how I model behaviors to my children, and whether or not I go to jail.
My third and final consideration for being moral is a combination of both views. To be moral, I must both be self focused and other focused. I must take the time to know myself and where my sense of morality lies. I must know what I consider right and wrong (at least in most contexts) and at the same time I must know when I must sacrifice a view for others. This is the ultimate act of morality: knowing when one's own morality has become immoral to someone else, and giving them the space to discover their own view without condemning then as wrong. In such a sense, I can have dialogue with someone and not necessarily totally agree with them, while respecting their otherness and the right to decide what they think is right for them.
II. 'THE SCIENCE OF FREEWILL' BY MICHAEL WARD
Extract from a lecture by V.S. Ramachandran, Director of
the Centre for Brain and Cognition and professor with the
Psychology Department and the Neurosciences Program at the
University of California, San Diego, and Adjunct Professor
of Biology at the Salk Institute:
"If I take anyone of you here and ask you to wiggle your
finger and I do a PET scan to see what parts of the brain
light up (and Kornhuber and Libet actually did this some
decades ago) what I find is that two areas light up in the
brain. One is called the motor cortex, which is actually
sending messages to execute the appropriate sequence of
muscle twitches to wiggle your finger. But also another
area in front of it called the pre-frontal cortex that
prepares you to move your finger. So there's an initial
area which prepares you to move your finger and then
there's the motor cortex that executes the motor programmes
to make you wiggle your finger.
"A second to three-fourths of a second prior to moving your
finger, I get the EEG potential and it's called the
Readiness Potential. It's as though the brain events are
kicking in a second prior to your actual finger movement,
even though your conscious intention of moving the finger
coincides almost exactly with the wiggle of the finger.
Why? Why is the mental sensation of willing the finger
delayed by a second, coming a second after the brain events
kick in as monitored by the EEG? What might the evolutionary
rationale be?The answer is, I think, that there is an
inevitable neural delay before the signal arising in the
brain cascades through the brain and the message arrives to
wiggle you finger. There's going to be a delay because of
neural processing - just like the satellite interviews on
TV which you've all been watching. So natural selection has
ensured that the subjective sensation of willing is delayed
deliberately to coincide not with the onset of the brain
commands but with the actual execution of the command by
your finger, so that you feel you're moving it.
"And this in turn is telling you something important. It's
telling you that the subjective sensations that accompany
brain events must have an evolutionary purpose, for if it
had no purpose and merely accompanied brain events - like
so many philosophers believe (this is called
epiphenomenalism) - in other words the subjective sensation
of willing is like a shadow that moves with you as you walk
but is not causal in making you move, if that's correct
then why would evolution bother delaying the signal so that
it coincides with your finger movement?
"So you see the amazing paradox is that on the one hand the
experiment shows that free will is illusory, right? It can't
be causing the brain events because the events kick in a
second earlier. But on the other hand it has to have some
function because if it didn't have a function, why would
evolution bother delaying it? But if it does have a
function, what could it be other than moving the finger? So
maybe our very notion of causation requires a radical
revision here as happened in quantum physics. OK, enough of
free will. It's all philosophy!"
Conscious awareness of causing the action is perceived simultaneously with the action being carried out. This provides a sense of "ownership" to the action being carried out i.e. "I chose to waggle my finger now". There is however this recorded time delay between the "pre-activity" and the subsequent action and ownership of the act of choosing.
On a mechanistic cause and effect model the chain of events started prior to any conscious perception of choosing. Can it not be deduced from this that the chain of activity resulting in waggling the finger commenced subconsciously before the voluntary action?
On a physiological level the inbuilt delay between "first cause" and "ownership of final action" makes functional sense otherwise we might well experience the time lag that we all find disconcerting in conversation over distance telephone calls sometimes when we hear our own voice a split second after speaking the words.
Another example: we can freely think, that is to say we do not feel inhibited in how or when we think. Such cerebral activities are freely available for us to stop or start as and when choose and in this way we can deliberate over a problem or rehearse mentally what we are going to say at our speech tomorrow.
However, let us add one more activity to this free thinking and let us verbalise all our thoughts. Suddenly, if you are anything like me, we become stilted in our speech and what was previously a free flowing inner conversation fragments into irregular packets of activity the moment we have to activate our vocal chords.
If Ramachandran is to be believed we have now introduced a time delay into the process which transforms the previous stream processing into packet processing. It's as if we were listening to someone else talk and are unable to evaluate what is being said until all the linear stream of information has been received and processed.
What then are the implications for freewill if this explanation of observed brain events is valid? Freewill has been principally considered as being able to either originate ideas or voluntarily choose. In either definition it is essentially considered a conscious activity and one not necessarily caused by a previous activity.
However as has been highlighted here the very beginning of origination or choosing is prior to any conscious act. This then leaves us with a subconscious act that then becomes apparent at a later time. How many people would consider that an event that started out subconsciously could lie easily with any concept of having freewill? I pose that freewill is an incoherent concept when considered in the light of the empirical observations made by Ramachandran.
There is one model that would embrace this data, it is that the act of origination or volition may not be measurable because it does not occur within the brain. For myself I am satisfied that on the balance of probabilities there is only one sort of stuff that exists and that mind is a brain state. Some would argue that this reduces all ideas and values to brain states and I would agree with this with one qualification, the use of the word reduces, such a descriptive word serves only to show how much mind has been falsely elevated above brain until now.
Philosophically does this information matter, is it relevant? How does it materially affect the concepts of mind in that decisions to act are taken before they are perceived to be taken - where can there be ownership of origination in this scenario? I am minded that such neurological information necessitates revalidation of our concepts of both freewill and perceptions of causality in the same way as when Einstein posed a maximum limit on speed that founded a re-evaluation of time.
(c) Michael Ward 2004
III. 'OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE RELIGIOUSNESS' BY D.V. PIVOVAROV
According to V.S.Soloviev's generalizing formulation, religion is the reunion and connection of human beings and the world with the unconditional beginning and center of all existing. In short, religion is communication of persons with the absolute. Is this communication universal and constant? In what measure does it depend on our consciousness?
There is no doubt that life on Earth is always closely connected to cosmic laws and energies and that these laws may be especially esteemed by people as reference points of intelligent evolution of mankind. The Earth gravitates to the Sun, Solar system - to the centre of our galaxy, and finally - to the even more vigorous centre of a metagalaxy. Thus, according to the scientific data, there is a line of relative power centres in the world, consistently increasing in power. It is possible, inductively arguing, to put forward a hypothesis about the existence of an ultimate power centre - unconditional - the centre of the universe, to which all hidden strings of life are attracted.
As far as in general we can reflect upon absolute reality, the model of the Solar system is capable of serving as a geometrical model of God-Pantokrator: planets rotate around of the Sun, centripetal and centrifugal forces are enclosed to each of them. The first force is directed on preservation of integrity of all system (is it good?), and the second tries to break a planet from its orbit (is it evil?). In the cult of the Sun; centripetal and centrifugal forces were represented in images of God and satan, absolute good and evil. Certainly, in view of modern astronomical knowledge the offered model is incomplete and inexact, and centrifugal force may have another explanation - for example, as an attraction of a planet to a more powerful space centre. Then, expanding this model to an image of a metagalaxy, we receive an opportunity vectorially to interpret the nature of polytheism, the hierarchy of gods.
From this, I believe, the opportunity logically follows to allocate two levels in cosmocentric religions - an initial level of objective religiousness and a secondary level of subjective religiousness. In my opinion, philosophers did not notice before the opportunity for this conclusion; a similar classification of levels of religion was absent till now in the scientific literature. We do not always realize our own objective real religiousness, though mankind as a whole and each of us separately (no less than any particle of the global order) actually, probably, are connected to the absolute space centre. If space is infinite, its centre takes roots in any point of the universe. Hence, the general law of the world attraction finds its theoretical explanation and sense in the idea of objective real religiousness in everyone. Is it or is it not certain that life tends to self-expansion, to boundlessness? Is it or is it not possible, therefore, for people to existentially test the inescapable bent for permanent perfection of the environment?
I shall repeat, the metaphysical hypothesis about objective real life of the unconditional centre of space is provided with scientific plausibility by the astrophysical induction mentioned above. Each of us finally solves a problem of the validity of the given hypothesis on the ground of spiritual belief. The search for an essence of absolute life never stops, people are guided by idea of absolute in all spheres of their activity.
In this objective sense all people are religious. All of us without exception are involved in power, material and information communication with the unconditional center of the universe. The powerful waves of the space centres (the Sun, the Milky Way, etc.) penetrate each of us. Scientific understanding of these processes is not clear. Some scientists even in general, illogically, deny the reality of human communication with centers of space forces; they say that there is no hierarchy of the space centres of energy and there is nothing absolute in the global order. But objective religiousness creates the intuition of absolute reality - our direct knowledge about Completeness of Life.
R. Shlejermaher treated such special intuition as a person's feeling of being being drawn to the infinite, as melancholy concerning the boundless. The Russian philosopher N.O. Lossky tried to prove that all the maintenance of the world is direct and invisibly given in intuition of the learning subject. The intuitive knowledge of communication with absolute reality never shares without the rest on rational thinking; it is not completely expressible in concepts and sensual images, but has a mainly mystical character. The Religious experience of people is determined by the mysticism of objective religiousness; the sacral attitude to a basis of life grows from an intuition of the absolute. R. Otto has isolated in sacral 'numinosum' a primary awareness of the reality of the absolute which was later thought through names of sacred essences of various religions.
Another aspect of religion is the subjective order. As forms of social consciousness they generate different pictures and dogmatic descriptions of the sacred communication (or absence of such connection) with the absolute. When specialists speak about any concrete religion they usually mean the subjective religiousness which more often is shown in these or those confessional forms, apparently sacralized. It was only possible for great prophets to explicate in part during millennia the contents of subjective religiousness of people and to state it in the sum of the alternative Scriptures. Subjective religiousness is changeable: at times it disappears, turns to doubt or in disbelief, returns back again. Sometimes it happens that the objectively religious person recognizes him or herself as a non-believer.
Any religious doctrine grows from answers to three interconnected questions: 1) whether there is an absolute reality?; 2) how can we know this reality?; 3) what practical conclusions can we bring out from stories about the absolute? The various types of subjective religiousness (embodied in the variety of national and world religions) were born in the cultivation of this or that image of absolute and from the character of their answers to these questions. The absolute may be thought of as the personal God, or as impersonal brahman, or as the final purpose (for example, nirvana) etc. At the same time any dogma is not capable of expressing completely the real communication of a person with the absolute. There is a discrepancy between objective and subjective religiousness of people serving as a source of evolution of religious ideas and faiths. Subjective religiousness is the varied image of objective religiousness.
(c) D.V. Pivovarov 2004
Professor Daniil Pivovarov, Ph.D. Head of Chair of Philosophy of Religion at Urals University Yekaterinburg, Russia