KARL JASPERS FORUM
Commentary 5 (to R3)
( EMBODIMENT AND REIFICATION )
by Harwood Fisher
25 February 2009, posted 7 March 2009
[HFJM:] All mental structures and their precursors - concerning self, world, and everything - are pragmatically structured, affirmed, posited, and tried out within ongoing experience which is an unstructured matrix or background for structures
[HF:] Pragmatically structured or not, they are structured. The term 'pragmatic' just 'kicks the can down the road.' This is the point that I made about avoiding an explanation via an endless regress. When a person makes a choice, we can look at it in terms of a series of determinants — but the regress to neural and sub-neural structures and/or to sensory-motor patterns of action and reaction (1) neither connects fully with the conscious apprehension and/or processing of 'meaning' (2) nor provides a coherent idea of 'agency.'
In terms of (1), short of finding engrams that carry meaning from neural cell to neural cell or neural grouping to neural grouping, there is no present reason to believe that a regress to pragmatics will confidently show how cognitive structuring of meanings trundles from one level of representation to another to an outcome that we would apprehend consciously as a 'meaning.'
Agency' implies that the determinative process loops from the top-down. It 'gets going' from whence we can be conscious of it. But this formulation simply acknowledges that the problem of originating a thought -- or a choice -- cannot simplistically be tied to a blind evolutionary type process of adaptation. The reflexive feedback looping is an explanation that does not violate basic evolutionary explanations (Riegler, for example). In a view, which is limited to a 'blind' process, constructivism is given short shrift, since if conscious choice is an outcome; that outcome, by definition, is a 'new beginning.'
To get to problem (2) will take a few moments. The problem of bounds is one inherent in the limits of form. There is anthropological evidence -- and even evidence from linguistic analysis--of the limits on expression of thought, if not on thought, of subject-predicate forms. But even more striking is the evidence for basic logical forms. Whether you want to maintain that either or both of these forms resulted from pragmatic structuring or not, they now appear ubiquitously as limits or constraints to the formation and processing of thought. I do not mean them as Platonic forms, but as organismically morphological.
Here it is important to distinguish from a dynamic account, an 'historical' argument that these forms ('natural forms,' we might agree) are and have been subject to long-term evolutionary changes. My proposal is that the historical argument is misplaced when one is accounting for or explaining the formal constraints of formal thought and the feedback loops from consciousness of agency.
The 'misplacement' -- using one explanation, where it does not fit – causes logical problems: The organism as we experience it cannot be experienced without the awareness of limits. Such limits not only refer to the particularity of the organism, but also they characterize thought as inescapably constrained by the logic of identity and contradiction. These constraints make the notion of 'all-encompassing' an over-extended and incoherent one.
[HFJM:] we devise multiple conceptual designs for structuring and handling experience as it happens; the world is a stage that we build as we can.
[HF:] Similar to Dennett's view. But, this view simply puts us at the mercy of the regress to pragmatics and again avoids a coherent view of agency. It's a good example of putting an historical analysis in the place where a dynamic one is needed.
[HFJM :] I have difficulty following this statement; and that actually relates to my original question. ‘Here come the reifications’
[HFJM :] My argument is that ontology is non-functional, because it excludes the subject(s), and should be replaced by more functional subject-inclusive ‘reality-design’. That would imply that my proposal cannot be ‘ontologically loaded’ - unless by ‘ontology’ you mean something different from what I described above.
[HF:] On reification: 'The mind' is just as much a reification as 'the body.' Probably I am reacting to classical splits of the two, since I do use the term 'organism.' However, the term 'organism' is bound to the hypotheticals of a biological science--and hence the term is not a bottom-line assumption. Thus, although I personally might not find it useful, some scientists deal with the concept of 'systems' as a term that transcends the concept of the organism. A reification like 'the mind' makes it difficult not to regard 'it' as an ontological object – phenomenologically constituted or not. The concept of 'the mind' put that way seems to block reconfigurations -- even modularizations -- which might be hypothetically more heuristic. Sometimes, instead of 'mind,' 'intra-communication pathways and capabilities' is a configuration yielding interesting ideas and research. To be sure -- and thank goodness -- it's not the only such term or 'picture.'
Riegler, A. (2008). Natural or internal selection? The case ofcanalization in evolutionary systems. Artificial Life 14: 345–362 On-line. Available Nov. 13, 2008 at:
e-mail < harwoodfisher (at) optonline.net>