Saturday, November 11, 2017
Vitalism and materialism
I know it’s Saturday and you like me to take a rest once a week, but maybe a short session? Answering Bob’s question shouldn’t be all that complicated, should it?
[Bob Friedman: I’ve been reading Rupert Sheldrake’s 2012 book Science Set Free, which is a fascinating study of the materialist versus what is called the “vitalist” philosophies. The vitalists believe in the separation of mind and matter, mind being non-3D. But the vitalists cannot explain how the non-3D mind can attach to the 3D body. The materialists cannot explain the origin, nature, and composition of consciousness either. I wonder if Nathaniel can address this apparent dilemma.]
Most things can be answered in a few words, but then explaining and hedging the words takes a little more, and perhaps the basis of the explanations needs more, and you go ever-deeper into the swamp. But we can begin, and we shall see. Maybe it won’t amount to much, as such explanations go.
The short explanation is that vitalism and materialism are two sides of the same mistaken coin, much as capitalism and communism were in the political / economic sphere. When you start off with a wrong premise – particularly an unnoticed one – many a logical antithesis amounts to pointing out the errors of the opposite position, not realizing that one’s own position is equally undermined, because not recognizing what the two have in common.
I felt that right away, when I saw Bob’s question. I am almost perplexed that people can’t instinctively understand that there isn’t any material world, in any absolute sense, so there isn’t the basis for any such contradiction. Of course I realize I lay myself open to charges of being a philosophical idealist, but, given the company that puts me in with – the Transcendentalists first of all – there is worse company to be placed among.
Well, that is the nub of it, of course. In a universe formed out of consciousness, in which every atom and molecule partakes of consciousness, where is there room for what people call dead matter? Where is there room, even, for unconscious matter? There isn’t. What there is, is a world entirely composed of elements all of which are conscious, each form of consciousness different, according to the physical form’s possibilities and constraints, but all conscious. The fact that human 3D consciousness cannot communicate with that of plants or rocks does not mean that there is nothing to be communicated with – particularly given the fact that in some circumstances, people do communicate in such ways. You have experienced it yourself, Frank. Many of your readers will have experienced it in what are called anomalous experiences, usually doubted because not resting firmly and comfortably in a theory.
Jeremy Narby took some hallucinogen – ayahuasca, maybe – and found himself communicating with DNA itself, if I remember correctly. I think it was he (and I think it was in response to that experience) who realized or anyway theorized that this is how indigenous peoples knew the pharmacological properties of plants: The plants told them.
The setting-aside of obstructive beliefs (no matter how “scientific” they are supposed to be) is sometimes enough in itself to allow one’s mind to realign things – seemingly spontaneously sometimes.
Ideas may divide reality into seemingly solid compartments, and once you see that the walls of the compartments are merely arbitrary and theoretical, new and more fundamental relationships become evident.
So, once realize that reality is not “mind” and “matter” – because there can be no matter divorced from mind, no matter not made out of consciousness – and you see that both vitalists and materialists are believers in the same mistake, only differing from each other in which pieces of data they wish to admit from the real world beyond their theories.
Short and sweet, as advertised.
And, as advertised, it could be expanded upon as one things leads to another.
“As we ramble into higher and higher grass,” as Thoreau put it.
It was undoubtedly a coincidence that led you to honeymoon in New England and visit Concord and Walden before you – as opposed to your bride – even knew who Thoreau was, other than knowing his name. Undoubtedly coincidence that your thesis supervisor suggested a topic that led you to Thoreau, and equally a coincidence that one moment’s acquaintance with his writings instantly and permanently captured you. Undoubtedly a coincidence that your wife – who was afraid of the kinds of mental exploration you would enter into – gave you as a gift the complete set of Thoreau’s journals in that same year of graduate school.
Yep, pretty coincidental life I lead.
It was only the co-inciding of the many strands of your life that led you where you are. And it was only your larger self’s guidance that repeatedly brought you into the orbit of this or that pole-star. Thoreau, Melville, Emerson, etc. No need to count them. The things you come to in “sinfully strolling from book to book,” as Emerson put it, are as much a part of your experience as anything that happens to your body. Where is there division between mind and matter, except in philosopher’s or scientist’s categories?